Sunday, June 29, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Bucking the Tiger, Fringe, and other stuff...

Swag
I didn't expect to be buying anything this week, but I wound up getting the Firefly RPG: Echoes of War scenario 'Bucking the Tiger'. The title comes from another name for Faro, the card game which features in the adventure's story. I've skimmed it briefly, and it looks pretty good. My only issues with it are that, unlike the Serenity Crew PDF - which I had bought previously, and is required to play without the corebook - the adventure does not come in both standard and printer-friendly format. For someone like me, without a tablet to read it from, that makes things a smidge trickier.

In any case, I'm probably not going to run the scenario until I've got the corebook; the selection of characters available in Serenity Crew is limited to the original series cast, and about a dozen character archetypes who I'm having a hard time imagining sharing a boat together. So I'll wait and make up my own pregen crew for the scenario when I get the corebook, which won't be for another couple of weeks at least.

Achievements Unlocked
I finished reading Skin Game by Jim Butcher, and was pleased to find that it did end on a more positive note than the last three books in the series did, which isn't to say there wasn't some bad stuff that happened in the book - of course there was - but it didn't end on a absolute downer, at least. I'll probably do a full review of it in a week or two, once I've had time to write one up.

The second half of Fringe season three revisited the alternate viewpoint that I was mourning the loss of after episode eight, which I was very happy to see. The series took a slight detour from the main arc for a mini-arc involving...well, I won't spoil it for you, but it leads into a pretty fun oddball episode, 'Lysergic Acid Diethylamide', which was partly animated, and had a lot of crazy stuff happening in it. Broyles loosens up a bit after he gets high by accident, Walter and Peter run from zombies and confront other dangers which lurk inside Olivia's mind, and they even ride one of those zeppelins you always see on the 'other side'.

Once I had finished season three, I just had to move on to season four because season three ended on a really mean cliffhanger, so it's a good thing NetFlix had season four on its streaming service. I really like the way Fringe changes things up with each season, and the twist in season four has been both interesting and heart-wrenching to watch. There were a couple of times during the finale two-parter where I let out a 'Big NO!' at the TV screen. But, to my relief, this season didn't exactly end on a 'must-continue' cliffhanger like the last couple. I suppose that, not knowing whether they'd be renewed, they didn't want to do that, although the oddball episode for this season did give a glimpse of what the series' future would hold if they did get a fifth season. The season four and five boxsets are pretty cheap now, so I'll probably buy season five to complete the series, and buy season four as well, just to give myself the full set.

At Tuesday GUGS, I went through character creation for a Night's Black Agents one-shot I want to run. I'll be using a pre-written scenario by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, who kindly forwarded me an old con scenario of his. There were pregens for the game, but Gareth only had the character back-stories and a few notes about their MOSs, cherries and background packages. So on Tuesday I got my players together and had them build their characters based on those notes. It got a little messy though, since none of the players was familiar with Gumshoe and I didn't do a great job of guiding them through the creation process, which can be a bit clunky anyway. There's still a few issues to be worked out with the character sheets, but hopefully we'll have it all sorted before this Tuesday, when we're due to play the scenario.

Not a lot else has happened this week. I went to Saturday GUGS, which took place in Geek Retreat this weekend, and played an EDH game of Magic the Gathering with a deck loaned to me by Brian. It took a while - about four or five hours - but eventually players started getting knocked out (starting with me), and Brian won the game. Apparently it's better to play EDH with up to four players, whereas we were playing with six. Anyway, at least I got a free card, a Pelakka Wurm. I don't have a deck for it, but it's there if I ever get started building one.

Works In Progress
I've not made much progress on the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic this week, which is why I decided to work on it as my Camp NaNoWriMo project, to get caught up with it. Likewise, I haven't done much in the way of prep for any RP, mainly because I've got most of the prep done for the one-shot I'm going to run already. I've got key NPCs written up on index cards, sheets with mook stat blocks on them, and I put together some custom GM screen inserts for Night's Black Agents. Not a lot else to do, prep-wise, besides reading through the rules again and maybe putting together a background music playlist for the scenario.

As for next week, my plans are:
- Finish prep for/run Night's Black Agents one-shot at Tuesday GUGS.
- Continue working on the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic.
- Outline 'Episode 2' of the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic.

Friday, June 27, 2014

[Writer's Musings] Camp NaNoWriMo: The 2nd Attempt

I attempted Camp NaNoWriMo earlier this year, in May, and didn't make it past the first week. I guess there's just something about Camp NaNoWriMo that makes it harder for me to invest in than with the main NaNoWriMo event. All the same, I'm going to give it another try in July. This time I'm going to use it to make some headway on the redraft of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfiction. I decided to do that rather than an original fiction project because, right now, I'm struggling to come up with outlines that I'm happy with for any of the original fiction projects I've got in mind. So, I'm just going to work on fanfic for the next month and hope the practice I get from that builds up my creative juices and eventually inspiration will strike.

In addition to signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo, I've also signed up for the 750 Words One Month Challenge for July, in which participants must write at least 750 Words in their account every day. When signing up for the monthly challenges, participants can design their own rewards for completing the challenge and consequences for failing it. I haven't decided what mine should be yet, but I thought maybe I'd make the Firefly RPG my reward. I was going to pre-order it and get the complimentary PDF as soon as I had the cash to spare, but I think I might hold off on that until the end of July as my reward. Other options I considered were the Fringe season five boxset - since I'm almost finished watching season four on NetFlix - or I might back Storium for $20 and get on the beta for that, as well as secure myself a year's subscription once it goes live.

Anyhow, if I'm writing at least 750 words on the fanfic per day, I should at least have the first 'episode' finished in time for posting on Fanfiction.net in August. And while I'm working on that, I'll also try and brainstorm some ideas for the big, three month long original writing project I want to get started on in August. Maybe I'll attempt The 90 Day Novel technique again, since that basically takes three months to work on.

In any case, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to complete Camp NaNo this time around, so wish me luck.

See you later, folks!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

[Character Report] Hoshino Kazuo (Timewatch)

This was one of several character ideas I considered for Timewatch before settling on Kevin for the Team Indigo campaign. The initial concept was basically a Kenshin Himura expy, but I tweaked the background to make him sufficiently different from Kenshin. The end result is a character based a little bit more on Miyamoto Musashi, and also on Fitz from the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.

In the end, I opted not to use him for Team Indigo, but I may use the character concept in a later Timewatch game, perhaps if I get to play in one of Stephanie Bryant's ocassional one shots.

Hoshino Kazuo

APPEARANCE
Takeru Sato as Hoshino Kazuo
(Image used without permission.
No rights to the photo are claimed by this blogger.)

Of small, slender build and with a youthful, feminine visage, Kazuo has mid-back length red-brown hair tied in a thick ponytail. His hair is thick and abundant, with all of the shorter frontal hairs falling across his face as bangs rather than being in the ponytail at the nape of his neck.

BACKGROUND

Origin Time: 1868
Former Profession: Assassin
Drive: Atonement
As an illegitimate child, Kazuo was unacknowledged by his father, and mostly ignored by the household. He was nonetheless trained in the art of swordsmanship by his uncle and showed great skill for which he was praised. He trained hard, and became the best swordsman he could, hoping one day to prove his worth to his father.

Kazuo's skills did eventually get him noticed, and his father sought to make the most of his skills, and recruited him as his personal assassin. At first, Kazuo was happy enough to have a place in his father’s household, a purpose. The first few kills were hard, but he learned to shut off his emotions and simply perform his duty. He acted in this capacity during the bakumatsu, killing pro-western idealists on his father’s orders.

But he was never anything more than a tool to his father, and a tool may be discarded if it is no longer needed. When that day arrived, for reasons unknown to Kazuo, his father sent other assassins to kill him.

Kazuo discovered that he was not willing to die, not even for his father's sake. He escaped his attackers and fled, gravely wounded.

He was found and tended to by a kind woman named Tomoko and her son, Emori. When his father’s assassins came for him, he could not protect them both. Tomoko was killed, but he saved Emori. He ran away from Kazuo afterwards, blaming him for his mother’s death.

After that, he travelled alone for a time, until he was approached by a strange woman who knew entirely too much about him. She told him about Timewatch, and offered him a chance to make up for the harm he had caused in blind obedience to his father. He didn’t accept right away, but eventually he decided there was little left for him in his home timeline and vanished from history to forge a new path for himself...

PERSONALITY

Soft-spoken, serene, humble, selfless and polite. Kazuo doesn't hesitate to put himself in the path of harm to shield those around him and often attempts to diffuse contentious situations with soft, calming words and a somewhat clownish personality involving feigned clumsiness. Those who underestimate him for his peaceful demeanor do so at their peril, however. When forced into conflict or sufficiently angered, he displays an intense and fearsome determination. He will preserve life where possible, but will kill if no other option remains.
His preference for peaceful resolutions come both from his failure to protect Tomoko, and having grown weary of the constant bloodshed that dominated his life since he achieved manhood. His selfless and self-sacrificing nature comes from feelings of low self-worth, having been discarded by his father for unknown reasons.

ABILITIES

Chronal Stability 8
Health 10


General: Athletics 8, Disguise 3, Medic 3, Preparedness 3, Reality Anchor 3, Scuffling 10, Shooting 5, Unobtrusiveness 6, Vehicles 3.

Academic: History (Ancient) 1, Military Tactics 2, Timecraft 1

Interpersonal: Charm 2, Falsehood Detection 1, Intimidation 2, Reassurance 1, Streetwise 1, Taunt 1.

Technical: Medical Expertise 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2, Paradox Prevention 1.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Dresden Files, Fringe and other stuff...

Swag
Spending money that I probably shouldn't have, I bought and downloaded the Heroine RPG by Josh Jordan. A while ago I'd picked up the Heroine of Heiankyo setting supplement for the game by Andy Kitkowski (who Kickstarted the English translation of Tenra Bansho Zero) for free on DriveThruRPG. So I finally decided my interest was piqued enough, and bought the main game. I'll post a review of both Heroine and Heroine of Heiankyo when I've had the opportunity to try them out.

I also took advantage of the Pay What You Want option on the Venture City Stories setting supplement for Fate Core. Unfortunately, what I could pay wasn't very much, but I'll try and compensate for that again by posting a review when I've read it and put it to use in a game.

Achievements Unlocked
We had another session of Timewatch: Team Indigo on Sunday, which ended on a cliffhanger. Apparently Jae is basing this scenario off of an Ashen Stars prewritten adventure, and if that's the case I might be able to guess what adventure that is. I suspect it's The Pleasure Bringers, which I recall skimming in the Dead Rock Seven preview I got when I pre-ordered Ashen Stars way back when. I don't recall the specific details of the scenario though, and I'll avoid reading over the copy I got in the pre-order package until we've completed it.

My usual group of players wasn't at Tuesday GUGS this week, and I wanted to catch up on some writing, so I showed up long enough to see if there was anything happening that I should stick around for, and then went home.

On Thursday, we had our eighth 'episode' of our Tears Of A Machine campaign, Tales of the Arx Jericho. Was supposed to be a beach vacation episode, but we got side-tracked with snooping around Dr Johnson's office, having grown suspicious of him since last session. We did eventually get to the beach though, and there was some surfing and volleyball. Full details will be posted in an AP report on Saturday, or you can check out the video from the Hangouts On Air session on Youtube if you can't wait for details.

I'm about halfway through Fringe season three, and so far I'm still enjoying it. I don't want to say too much about it, in case I spoil things for those yet to watch, but I did really like the switching viewpoints they used in the first eight episodes, and was a bit sad when they stopped doing it. That said, I get why they stopped switching at that point, because the reason behind it was resolved. That'll probably make sense if you've seen the series. Probably.

I'm about 70% finished reading Skin Game by Jim Butcher, and I'm loving the heist plot that he's gone with for this book. At this point, I've yet to learn why it's titled 'Skin Game' but I do have a couple of theories, neither of which will be fun for Harry if they prove true. I'm hoping it's something else, because after everything he's been through in the last three books, Harry deserves a break. Plus, it's probably about time to relieve some of the tension in the series before putting on the pressure for the finale, since Butcher has planned for '23ish' books in the series, and we're on book 15 now. So that's roughly five books to go until he kicks off the endgame. Okay, maybe he can squeeze a little more angst out before relieving the tension a bit. Just a bit.

Works In Progress
I completed 'Episode 1, Part One' of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic and have given the document to Luke, one of my DWAiTAS players, for beta reading. I'm going to need to try and get the next three parts of the episode done over the coming week, so that it's out of the way before Camp NaNoWriMo starts.

Once again, I haven't done much prep work for roleplaying purposes, although I did put together a set of GM screen inserts for the Timewatch RPG. They're not the best, but they'll do the job until the inserts promised as stretch goals in the Kickstarter become available.

And that's about it for now. My plans for the week ahead are:
- Prepare myself for the job interview I've got on Tuesday.
- Prepare some kind of one-shot for Tuesday night GUGS.
- Plot stuff for Camp NaNoWriMo.
- Finish off 'Episode 1' of the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic.
- (Maybe) write a flash fic for Friday.

See you later folks!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine: Tales of the Arx Jericho - Episode 07: Remember New Alamo! Part 2

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho
A Mayzor raid in New Alamo disrupts the pilots' meals, and they gear up to deploy. Two Wormwoods have landed on opposite sides of the city, which is teeming with Swarms and Locusts, and Alpha Company must assist the military and Preservation Forces Robbies in driving them back and destroying them. 

Rick, Sarah, and Jason all focus on individual targets, blowing each one up one by one, while maintaining constant communication with AK-47 at HQ. Soon, however, the MetaTron begins exhibiting patterns of strange, static interference, until all communication with Operations is completely severed. Bravo Company should have arrived to the city by now to help out Alpha, but they're no where to be seen. 

Suddenly, two lightning bolts crash down from the heavens, and the Magnas Beelzebub and Thammuz are standing at the north and south ends of the city. Sarah gets caught in a boxing match with Thammuz, while Jason, Rick, Serena, and Strudel take on Beelzebub. 

Their last team attack fails, and Rick's and Jason's SAInts both take heavy structural damage. Strudel's SAInt is prone underneath Beelzebub's giant, ominous smog cloud, and he's in danger as it focuses its attention on him. Serena's SAInt takes damage too, but she's still up and ready to continue the fight. That's when she hears a familiar voice hailing her over MetaTron. It's still full of static, but Sarah can always recognize her brother, Allen, even by his telepathic voice. He's piloting a Robbie in the northeast sector and helping to fight off Beelzebub. 

He tells Sarah their parents are being chased by Swarm and urges her to come quickly and help. Sarah knows she has to finish Thammuz off quickly, but will she do it?
The Characters
Rick Hunter (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Jason Reyes (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

Sarah Werner (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

Thursday, July 3rd, 2031
16:00

Sarah takes cover again and pops out to continue her martial sparring match against Thammuz. He has about the appropriate number of limbs left that a normal, humanoid-shaped alien should have, though a statement like that holds no merit when it concerns the Mayzor.

Meanwhile, Jason leads a coordinated, team effort to take cover and shield Strudel from Beelzebub's beams. With Rick and Serena's help, Jason is able to protect Strudel from getting killed, but his SAInt is disabled, and Strudel, who's fainted, has been ejected from his suit. It parachutes directly over the northeast outskirts of the city. Rick and Jason take this opportunity to repair some of their SAInt's damage, but the bio-mechanical, self-repair systems come at the price of raising the SAInt's Id or inner drive for senseless violence, much like the Magnas their design is based off of.

Sarah delivers a series of knife thrusts and shield bashes in quick succession which eventually disables Thammuz and activates his self-destruct mechanism. The ensuing explosion leaves a gaping crater in the south of New Alamo, but Sarah is long gone and racing toward the northeast sector to find her parents.

Rick and Jason cheer Sarah on for her epic, one-on-one victory. "Take that Oopsie!" Jason says and then addresses Sarah, "Stop cheering and send that backup you promised!" Rick tells his sister to go help Sarah's parents out, and she starts running east.

Several Mayzor Swarm continue to chase after Sarah's parents, and an Archer, perched high on top of a tall building, is firing deadly shots off at a building right next to them. All the windows are shattered, and there's a fire spreading inside. There's heavy smoke pervading the air, and the building looks like it's about to implode and crush the parents. Sarah engages the Archer at Firearms (FA) range with her Giant Killer and annihilates it in time to save her parents from the crumbling destruction.

Back to Beelzebub, Rick leads a team attack, this time, and tells Serena to double back and provide cover fire. Jason supports Rick by engaging the Magnas, and Rick fires off several rounds from his stone thrower at Beelzebub's back, penetrating the smog cloud.

The entire battle is extremely taxing, and Rick and Jason struggle to keep going, as their Ego is nearly depleted. Sarah regroups with them after ensuring her parents are safe and scooping Strudel up off the ground, and into her SAInt, along the way.

Several more rounds of high-impact violence and strategized, team assaults later, Beelzebub's smog finally dissipates and the alien-robot wasps completely break down. "This is for Strudel, you bastard!" Rick screams, as the pilots land the final blow. The Magnas's self-destruct core is triggered, and Alpha Company scrambles get away as far as they can so as not to get caught in the biggest explosion New Alamo has seen since the Wormwoods landed.

While helping the military quell the rest of the Mayzor, Alpha Company actually disables the Wormwoods in time before they can jet off into space with their lightning strikes. The military focuses on freeing civilians, while the pilots suddenly hear AK-47's thoughts reemerge on the MetaTron. The telepathic connection seems to be working again.

AK-47 tells the pilots that they don't know what happened with the MetaTron, but Operations saw the entire Magnas battle and are greatly impressed with how Alpha Company fared. She says to wait on standby as they initiate the retrieval protocol.

Debriefing
Back at HQ, Rick, Sarah, Jason, and Serena help carry Strudel, who's coming to his senses, and they see Billy, Joanne, and the rest of Bravo Company who all share a look of self-disappointment. They say that they were supposed to provide A Company with backup, but somehow their deployment coordinates got screwed up, and they ended up flying to the West Coast.

When Rick, Sarah, and Jason mention the MetaTron static and severing connections with HQ, Billy replies that all of Bravo lost contact with Operations as well. They could still hear each others' thoughts perfectly fine.

During the formal debriefing, AK-47 gives the pilots the same, lackluster response she's been giving them as to what happened. The Preservation Forces Officers still don't know what caused the static interference or loss in communication, but it's become high priority, and they will get to the bottom of it.

As AK-47 debriefs, Rick, Sarah, and Jason all notice Dr. Johnson's face crack several, subtle smiles, and they work together to figure out what his expression means. His poker 'tell' reveals itself every time AK-47 mentions the static interference or disruption of the MetaTron. After mentioning it to Billy, he reacts by revealing some surprising information. He tells Rick, Sarah, and Jason that he was sent on an errand, about a week ago, to deliver a folder to a Preservation Forces officer at HQ. Heading toward the monitoring room, Billy suddenly hid when he saw Dr. Johnson walk out. The doctor was alone in there and kept peering over his shoulder, paranoid, as he skulked down the hall.

Neither Rick, Sarah, nor Jason like what's going on. They're also starting to become paranoid, and they decide they need to investigate Dr. Johnson to figure out what's going on. What makes matters worse is that at the end of the debriefing, AK-47 publicly asks Serena to see her and Dr. Johnson right after. The rest of Alpha, especially Rick, are incredibly concerned.

Friday, July 4th, 2031
It's the Day of Independence in America, though by 2031, the United States' freedom is severely threatened by an enemy far worse than the country, continent, or world has ever seen before. Still, the people of the US Zone, or the United States Territories, celebrate July 4th in remembrance of what they once considered a great, powerful, and prosperous nation before the First Invasion.

Rick, Sarah, Jason, and all the other pilots of Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie Companies meet for an evening of barbecued burgers and hotdogs, apple cider and lemonade, and a fireworks display that doesn't do justice to the destruction they witnessed, and helped cause, in New Alamo.

Jason and Opsie get into their usual fight, after she gloats that Operations was all set and ready to deploy her alone to support Alpha Company against the Magnas, but it looked like they were able to handle themselves OK.

When Rick asks Serena what the meeting with AK-47 and Dr. Johnson was all about, she replies, "Nothing." She tells him she can't talk about it, even to him, and wants to drop the subject for now.

By the end, most of the pilots' Egos are pretty low, though Rick's is surprisingly high, despite the alarm about his sister. It's about time for a summer vacation, and the pilots look forward to the end of the summer term and a week-long break next month.

End of Episode 07

Thursday, June 19, 2014

[The Plan] A Writing To-Do List For The Coming Months

The year's nearly halfway done, and I haven't accomplished as much, writing-wise (or in general, to be honest), as I had originally hoped. But I'm determined to get some projects finished and others well underway before year's end, so here's my writing plan for the next six months.

June (or what's left of it)
I've been trying to work by a split writing schedule this month; three days writing original fiction, one writing flash fiction, three writing longer original fiction. By the time August comes round, I want to have finished redrafting the first 'episode' of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic, got it beta-read and start posting on FF.net, so I'll start focusing more on getting that first episode of that done before this month is over. I'm also going to try and write a couple of flash fics and outline my novel for next month.

July (Camp NaNoWriMo)
Despite my poor performance in April, I've decided to take another crack at completing Camp NaNoWriMo. I don't know what my project will be yet (although by the time this post goes live, I should have decided), but I won't have a lot of time to write anything else during the month, so that's my scheduled writing for July.

August
I'll start working on a a new long-term original fiction project, haven't decided what it'll be yet, but I'll probably work on another of my novel ideas.
Since the first episode of 'Doctor Who/Evangelion' should be posted in four parts on a weekly basis over the month of August, I'll want to try and complete episode two of the fanfic by the end of the month. I'll also try and do another four flash fics this month.

September
I'll continue work on the long-term original project, and once again, to keep a regular posting schedule over on FF.net, I'll aim to have episode three of Doctor Who/Evangelion done by the end of the month, especially as the plot I have in mind is perfect for the month of Halloween. And I'll aim for another four flash fics as well.

October
I should have the long-term original project finished off by now, and episode four of Doctor Who/Evangelion should be done by the end of the month, and I'll try for another four flash fics.

November (NaNoWriMo)
For the main NaNoWriMo event this year, I'll be doing something a little different and joining the ranks of the NaNo Rebels to design a game or two, because November is also NaGaDeMon (National Game Design Month). I mentioned a while back that I had a notion of writing up a couple of hacks for the Gumshoe RPG. One is a straight up Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hack (which may or may not be based on the show or more comics-oriented, I haven't decided), the other is going to be a (hopefully) original setting inspired by Inception, except the PCs would be the ones investigating mind crimes, rather than perpetrating them. I'll be working on either one or both of those for November, and probably keep myself in the fiction writing habit meanwhile doing flash fics and continuing work on the Doctor Who fanfic in a more diminished capacity, meaning episode five probably won't start posting until mid-December at best.

December
With the year nearly over, I'll probably wind things down for a bit. I'll start planning a new long-term writing project for the New Year, and maybe write some flash fic in the meantime (at least two, maybe four).
I'll resume my previous work schedule for writing the Doctor Who/Evangelion fic and aim to have episode six finished by the end of the month.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

[Gamemastery] 5 Ideas for Campaigns I Might Run

My DWAiTAS game is going into stasis until we can arrange a time and space (or cyberspace) for the finale, but it's all but finished now. So, having just come out of running a campaign, it's probably going to be at least a month or several before I'm feeling in the mood to run a regular campaign again. That said, in spite of how burnt out I've become since last September, I'm not going to give up on GMing, and will probably return to campaign play sooner or later. So I've been giving some thought to what I might run as my next campaign and come up with a few ideas in various states of completeness. I didn't bother listing them in countdown order this time, so the order here is most-interested-in-running to least interested.

WARNING: GUGS members or anyone who I RP with online might want to avoid reading the following post, since they might want to sign up for these games if/when I run them, and most of these descriptions are of the spoilery variety. So only scroll down if you're not likely to be in my future campaigns:


















1. Night's Black Agents: The Tunguska Menace
The popular theory about the Tunguska Event -which flattened 2000 square kilometers of forest and lit night skies in Europe and Asia for days afterwards - is that it was caused by either an asteroid or meteor bursting in the air after entering Earth's atmosphere. This much is true.
What is not widely known is that there was something inside that celestial body: a spore which has infested and mutated creatures within the blast area since the event. But fauna and flora are not the most effective hosts for the organism. It isn't until USSR scientists discover the spore in the mid-30s and experiment with it that the organism meets the perfect hosts: human beings.
After initial test subjects display violent - even vampiric - impulses, the research project is soon scrapped, the spore deemed too unpredictable for military use. But the spore survived, and lived on inside one of the project heads. Fast-forward to the present day, where the infested former researcher has now built up a vast vampire conspiracy, and is in the final stages of a plan to bring the Earth under his kind's rule.

When I first bought Night's Black Agents, I mentioned it to my friend Lizzy and she really liked the sound of it, so I started thinking about ideas for a campaign to run over IRC with her as a potential player. Knowing Lizzy is interested in UFOlogy, I figured I'd make either the Roswell Incident or the Tunguska Event the origin for my vamps. I eventually decided to loosely base my vampires on the music video for Metallica's All Nightmare Long, in which Soviet scientists discover an alien spore at the Tunguska blast site and eventually use it to instigate a zombie apocalypse in the US. I needed to tweak my idea somewhat so that the spore creates vamps rather than zombies, and so that it didn't create this alternate history where the US submits to Soviet rule in gratitude for their helping put an end to the zombie outbreak. There's still a lot of work to be put in before I'll ready to run this campaign, but I really like what I've got so far.

2. Night's Black Agents: The Hypnos Conspiracy (by Sergio Rodriguez)
In 1967, the CIA’s Project MKULTRA made a profound discovery. When dosed with certain chemicals, the human mind could be detached from the body and connected to a vast psychic reservoir, the very collective unconscious of the human race. The surveillance applications were obvious; the ability to steal information from the dreams and imaginings of The Enemy would alter the balance of the Cold War decisively. On March 13, 1968, Subject 612AC was sent “down”.
This was a mistake. Subject 612AC never returned from the dark behind humanity’s eyes. Something else did.
Project MKULTRA is closed now, ended in scandal and public recrimination. But the men who were part of that program, those powerful men who were in the room when that subject did not return; they still exist, they still live. They have moved on, starting companies and programs and networks of their own.
And within each of them is a shard of something terrible.
They have only one goal; to escape the prison of our minds. They seek to descend us all into a never ending dream, to draw their masters and brothers and full-selves out of nightmares.
It’s us or them.

Another Night's Black Agents campaign idea I'm working on, but in this case I'm using a concept submitted by Sergio Rodriguez for Pelgrane Press' Conspyramid competition.
The Hypnos Conspiracy was the winning entry in the competition, and well-deserving of the prize IMHO.
I like fiction involving dreams and the concept of the collective unconscious, I'm even working on a novel in a setting which involves the two. I didn't want to use my own story world in a campaign, but this idea has some similarities to mine, so I can run a campaign from it with a similar feel. The challenge I'm facing with this one is reverse-engineering the conspyramid: designing vamps based on the basic premise, determining which conspiracy nodes are the members of the original Project MKULTRA, where those nodes are located and what their role in the greater conspiracy is, and just how the puppet cast of a children's TV show tie in to the whole thing. (That said, just the idea of a bunch of muppet-type puppets as part of a psychic vampire conspiracy is both hilarious and somewhat creepifying.) Once I've worked out the details, I should have enough material to start a campaign. This one will probably be run at GUGS, though I might use it for my IRC campaign instead if I make more progress with it than the other campaign idea.
Side Note: I have heard from other fiction writing GMs that they like to explore their fiction ideas through RP sometimes...I think I'll can-of-worms that for a future post.

3. Kuro: Survivors
May 4th 2046, the day of the Kuro Incident. An accidental missile launch by the Panasiatic Federation vanishes mysteriously before hitting Japan. The electromagnetic storm which follows fries the control mechanisms of two airliners lifting off from Tokyo Airport at the same time. There are only six surviving passengers; three from each airliner, and each from the seats numbered 8, 9, and 3. Coincidence? Miracle? No. They were they spared for a reason. Six months later, the survivors of the Kamata crash are about to discover what that reason is...

What I've got here is a nice way of tying the PCs together at the start, with a fun prologue for the campaign where they're all boarding/onboard the ship prior to the crash. Then maybe after the six month timeskip they're all in the same support group for survivors of the crash, or maybe they're all called together by someone for some reason. Once I've worked out the reason they were spared (and by whom/what), then I'll have a better idea of how to handle the 'reunion'. But as soon as I saw the details of the Kamata crash in the corebook, I knew it was perfect fodder to build a campaign around, and if I run Kuro as anything more than a one-shot, this is the way I'd do it.

4. Timewatch: Plurality
Two years ago the Bentham Grid went online in New York City. It was a technological marvel.
The Grid links all those things unique to you - your social security number, your passport, your credit and debit accounts - and links them to one thing: your DNA. 
Through the Grid, any surface can serve as a genetic scanner, rendering credit cards and keys a thing of the past.
After the state of New York gave the police access to the Grid, crime dropped almost instantly. However, they also discovered that certain people are popping up in two places at once. These 'Pluralities' come under the scrutiny of the ISIU - the Department of Immigration Services Special Investigations Unit - and you are among those who find themselves being detained and interrogated. You don't know why there are two of you, but finding out why might be important to your future - and everyone else's...

Based on an amazing short film by Dennis Liu, this campaign would most likely use the Timewatch version of Gumshoe, and would expand upon the concept and plot of the film. The pluralities are caused by time travellers trying to prevent a future which is somehow tied to the Grid, but the players won't be the time travellers: they'll be the normal citizens whose lives get turned upside down by the arrival of their future selves. The reason for this is that I think the concept works better if it's driven by the mystery of what these future folk are up to, and what terrible future they are trying to prevent.

5. Doctor Who: Children of Time
Gallifrey was in flames. The High Council had grown corrupt and lost its way. As the Time Lords faced extinction in a final battle against the Daleks, a renegade group of Time Lords - horrified by the War and what it has done to their civilisation - took action to preserve the future of their people.
A dozen children from the Time Lord academy were sent through time - along with a couple of TARDIS seeds - in SIDRATs with built-in chameleon archs which re-wrote their biology and memories, creating new identities for them on the planet Earth.
The plan was that when the TARDISes were fully grown, they would send out telepathic signals, summoning the Children to reclaim their birthright and rebuild their civilisation, and hopefully redeem the Time Lords in the process.
You are among one half of the dozen Children who were sent out, and this is the story of what happened next...

This was the other option for a Doctor Who campaign that I considered running, before settling on the Exiles of Time idea. I even considered hinting at this plotline during Exiles - having the Children be the secret council behind the Temporal Security Agency - but decided to hold onto the idea for future use. It would be a more freeform campaign, with a potential plot arc concerning the fate of the other half-dozen Children and their TARDIS. (Perhaps also dealing with the fate of some of their own crew, in the event that not all six player slots are filled.) Since I've just finished a Doctor Who campaign, I'm probably not going to run this one anytime too soon, but it's something I'll definitely keep in mind.

Monday, June 16, 2014

[Character Report] Kevin Ryback (Timewatch)

What follows is a write-up of my character from Jae Campbell's Timewatch: Team Indigo campaign, which runs about once every month or so. You can find notes on the campaign at Jae's Wordpress blog, and you can find APs of our first couple of session over on RPGMP3.com:
Demo Session: Session 00
Session 1: Session 01, Session 02

More APs will be up as soon as I've had a chance to sit down and edit them to try and make them more listener-friendly. Since there's a chance my fellow players from the campaign will read this blog, I've put my character's secret background info at the very end of the post, so they'll be able to just stop reading when they reach that point. And now, let me introduce you to...

Asa Butterfield as Kevin Ryback
(Image used without permission.
No rights to the photo are claimed
 by this blogger.)

Kevin Ryback (aka L0K1)

APPEARANCE

Kevin is a thin, pale-skinned boy aged seventeen, with elven good looks, wavy raven-black hair and bright blue eyes. He's usually wearing a zip-front hoodie and occasionally wears beanie hat to hide his unruly mop of hair. He also constantly wears a pair of headphones which hang around his neck when he's not listening to his music player (which always looks appropriate to whatever time period he's in, unless there's no portable music devices in that era).

BACKGROUND

Origin Time: 1989
Former Profession: Bedroom Coder
Drive: Nowhere Else to Go
Kevin was a talented bedroom coder of the late 80s, doomed to an early demise courtesy of a drunk driver. Just another statistic. Except, when a mysterious rescuer intervened, his life was spared and time took on a new course. In the alternate future that resulted from his survival, Kevin went on to design a revolutionary piece of software a few years later: the first fully self-aware artificial intelligence. And, with its imperfect ethical programming, the intelligence known as ERIS would deem humanity too self-destructive to be left to their own devices, and decided to enslave them for their own good.
Timewatch stepped in to investigate the cause of the temporal disturbance and soon realised that Kevin was supposed to die. Rather than actually kill him, they faked his suicide by knocking him out, mem-tagging him and switching his body with a vat-grown, braindead clone.
This left Kevin without a life to return to, so he was offered a job and a new home with Timewatch. Though he does have occasional bouts of homesickness, he has taken to his new role with a playful sense of enthusiasm.

PERSONALITY

He approaches most situations with deadpan snark that masks any fear or insecurity he might actually be experiencing, a behaviour he picked up as a defence mechanism due to bullying at school and a lack of parental understanding at home.

Kevin is good with tech, and he knows it, and likes to show off his knowledge and expertise when he can, projecting an air of confidence which borders on arrogance. This is really just a front though, as - like many who have suffered bullying by their peers - he's quite insecure and puts on a show to convince himself of his own worth, as much as for other peoples' benefit.

His 'death' and the circumstances surrounding it have cast a shadow over his life that he seeks to dispel. He will do whatever it takes to accomplish missions and prove himself as a worthy agent of Timewatch and atone for his would-be part in a future technopocalypse ruled over by the sentient AI, ERIS. As such, he is almost fanatically devoted to Timewatch, and the lengths he will go to to protect the timeline sometimes shock even his own teammates.

ABILITIES

(Note: These stats represent Kevin as he was at the beginning of the campaign, and don't include any of the additional ability ratings added later with additional build points earned from experience.)

Chronal Stability 8
Health 8


General: Athletics 4, Burglary 4, Disguise 3, Preparedness 6, Reality Anchor 4, Scuffling 3, Shooting 5, Tinkering 9, Unobtrusiveness 4, Vehicles 4

Academic: History (Contemporary) 1, History (Future) 1, Research 1, Timecraft 1

Interpersonal: Bureaucracy 1, Charm 1, Falsehood Detection 1, Intimidation 1, Reassurance 1, Taunt 1

Technical: Forgery 1, Hacking 2, Notice 1, Paradox Prevention 1, Science! 1, Spying 1

SECRETS

Note: Players from my game (James, Ian, Michael and Michael) should stop reading now, unless they don't mind reading SPOILERS.)












Kevin had already written up the code for the AI which would later evolve into ERIS when Timewatch recruited him. They found the data and there was some debate about whether to destroy it, as some felt this could be considered murder.

It was eventually decided that the AI should be modified with Asimov Inhibition Protocols and kept under constant supervision. Kevin volunteered for the job, seeing it as his responsibility as the AI's creator to be the one who pulls the plug if it becomes necessary. As such, the AI has been redesignated as ALIS, and installed as the control AI for his tether.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Joss Whedon, Grimm Season 2 and other stuff...

Swag
Taking advantage of £5 from a lottery scratchcard, I bought myself the Kindle edition of Skin Game by Jim Butcher. I won't get round to reading it until I've finished Altered Carbon, but I'm just about done with that.

Also, although it'll probably be a while until I see the finished product, I backed the Primetime Adventures 3rd edition Kickstarter to the Print + PDF level.

Achievements Unlocked
On Tuesday I played a session of Our Last Best Hope with the remains of my Doctor Who group, which had to be cut short - since we started late and it's always slower to play with first-time players - but we would probably have beaten the Crisis in the end, having accumulated enough white dice through a couple of character deaths and story point expenditures to purchase some white sixes. We played the Space mission and used the 'alien derelict on a collision course with Earth' as our Crisis. We had just evacuated our crashing ship and boarded the derelict when we had to stop. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy the game, and that's what really counts.

I finished re-watching Firefly, and something I never noticed in my previous viewings was how several of the episodes flow naturally into one another, such as 'Shindig' and the following episode, 'Safe'. The episode ends with Serenity taking on a cargo, and the next episode deals with them getting rid of that cargo. Instead of it simply being assumed that they sold the goods between episodes, it's used as a starting point for the next episode's story. It's a small thing, but it's rare to see that sense of continuity between episodes in shows of this kind. It's not like Star Trek where an unspecified amount of time passes between episodes, and the events of previous episodes are scarcely mentioned. In Firefly, we see the follow-up from the story we just finished and it has a part in what comes next.

I followed up Firefly by watching Serenity on NetFlix and found myself getting a bit emotional at certain scenes, again. Without getting too spoilery (though if you haven't already watched the series and the movie...really, you should) the scenes include Harvest, Miranda and Mal's 'Aim to misbehave' speech, a leaf on the wind and the end. Right after that, I was in the mood for some more Whedon, so I found The Avengers and re-watched it as well. Didn't tug on my heartstrings quite so much, but it was still a fun ride,

I also finished off season two of Grimm and, while I had my doubts about the show during season one, those have all but vanished after this season. There was a lot more movement on the main arc in this series, and they even shook up the status quo a bit, which is always good, stops things from getting stale. Of course, like so many shows these days, they had to end the season with a cliffhanger. Still, at least it actually felt like a end of season cliffhanger this time. A bit cheeky of them to add the words 'Oh come on, you knew this was coming' right after 'To be continued...', but I do like their style for doing so.

And then, yesterday, I played in a Harry Potter one-shot using a homebrew system similar to World of Darkness. I was a Gryffindor teen detective type, and spent much of the session attempting to thwart (or turnaround) the antics of a Ravenclaw player character who was playing nasty pranks on everyone during a field trip to the land of the Selkies. And then, as we were heading to the underwater city - with the aid of water-breathing potions - we got attacked by a giant squid/octopus monster. After it was softened it up a little by a barrage of spells, the Ravenclaw jerk trapped it in an air bubble and caused it to choke from lack of water to breath. Nasty, but effective.

Works In Progress
Still working on the Doctor Who/Evangelion fic. Almost got Episode 1, Part 1 done. I'm going to need to pick up the pace if I'm going to have it finished before Camp NaNoWriMo starts in July. I also still need to plan what I'm going to write for Camp NaNo. And I'd like to get a couple of flash fics done before this month is over. I'm going to aim to do Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge for this week, and work on the 'Neon Sniper Gnome' prompt from Writing Excuses #8.41.

Not done a lot on the RP prep side of things this week, but I'll get around to it soon enough.

That's all for now, I should have more posts to blog over the coming week. See you later!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

[Kickstarter Alert] Primetime Adventures 3rd Ed (ALREADY FUNDED!)

One of the many games I've bought and am yet to play is Primetime Adventures. Actually, that's a lie, I did start a campaign of Primetime Adventures over IRC a while back, but I had to shelve it due to spending some time in hospital. I've been meaning to run something else with it for a while, but I've been holding off on it because there had been news circulating about Matt Wilson working on getting a new edition out.

Well, after a long wait for news about it, it seems it is now mostly done, and a Kickstarter has been launched to get it published in print. For those who are familiar with the game, it should be no surprise that this new edition of what is a fairly popular indie RPG got 100% funded within 24 hours of the campaign going live.

Those unfamiliar will possibly be asking: what is Primetime Adventures? Well, I could be lazy and just link the video to let the creator explain, but I feel like typing a bit longer, so I'll take a shot at describing it myself.

Primetime Adventures is a game where you and your players essentially create your own TV show. The first session is the 'Pitch' where you (as Producer) and the players (as the creative team) get together and discuss what kind of show you want to make. Once that's been sorted out, the players make up the cast of that show as Protagonists who they will play as characters. Each session thereafter is an episode of the show, and (in the previous edition, at least) play lasts for a 'season' of 5 or 11 episodes. During episodes, characters will come into conflict, which is usually more about dramatic stakes like, for example maintaining a normal relationship as a vampire slayer rather than the actual slaying. The conflict is resolved with cards, and you'll be allowed to draw a number of cards equal to your character's 'screen presence' (which is assigned for each episode at the start of the season, and determines which episodes are the characters' 'spotlight episodes') and can get extra cards to play by using your character's traits, or by spending fan mail which is earned by impressing the audience (i.e. the other players).

It's a really cool game and I wish I'd had more chance to play before now. And now that the new edition is coming out, I'm looking forward to trying it out again when it's released.

As mentioned, it's already funded. There may be stretch goals on the cards, given how early the Kickstarter reached its funding goal, but if you're just interested in backing and securing yourself the PDF and print editions (higher backer levels also get custom playing card decks and a composed theme song for the series they'd like to play), you can find the kickstarter here:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1801630747/primetime-adventures

I've already backed the project myself (despite wanting to save my money for the Firefly RPG when it comes out in print), and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product. Should be fun.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

[RP Thoughts] The Next 10 Games I Want To Run As One-Shots

With my long-term campaign almost wrapped up, I'm looking forward to a bit of a time-out from the GMing chair, at least as far as running a campaign is concerned. I'll probably still run the occasional (once or twice a month) one-shot, just to make sure I don't get rusty and whatnot. So I've been giving some thought to what games in my collection of unused RP books I might turn to for my next bunch of one-shots. Here's what I came up with, from last on the list to top-most.

10. Firefly
This isn't bottom of my list because it's my least favourite, far from it; it's at the bottom because, at the time of writing, the print edition isn't available yet. I don't like running from PDFs, mostly because my Kindle isn't ideal for reading it off of, and also...I guess I'm just a little bit old-fashioned that way. But when the book is released, and I've got the cash to part with, I'll be getting the game and I've got an old Traveller scenario or two I can tweak to fit the setting. I may even buy myself one or more of the Echoes of War scenarios that are already available on DrivethruRPG if I take the notion.

9. Wild Talents/Icons
I want to try my hand at running a supers game again one of these days, and these are the two main candidates for running whenever I get around to it. I bought Wild Talents a couple of Nationals ago while searching for a superhero RPG I could run. I haven't run it yet, and I'm a little worried that the rules look a bit crunchier than I'm generally comfortable with, but I might as well try it sometime and see. Icons, on the other hand, is much more rules-light. Problem with it is, it's maybe a bit too light, lacking in a proper character creation process. But I do like the Fate-derived aspects and positive-negative dice mechanic it uses.

8. Rocket Age
I love the aesthetic of the Rocket Age setting. Retro-style scifi with rocket ships, jet packs, fish-bowl helmet spacesuits and all that stuff. Problem is, it uses the Vortex System. Now, I like the Vortex System, but I've been running with it for about a year straight now in my Doctor Who game, and I want some time away from it. I still want to run this, but...not quite yet.

7. Mutant City Blues
The first of many titles in this list which use the Gumshoe system, in this case players are part of a special police unit who investigate crimes involving mutant powers or mutant victims, 10 years after 1% of the population have acquired these mutant traits from a mysterious illness. As with Firefly, it's not that I like this less than the other games. In this case it's more to do with how tricky coming up with a plot for this setting can be. I have had thoughts about adapting an old Monster of the Week scenario for the setting though, and I can always try my hand at putting together some Ripped From The Headlines scenarios, as is recommended for the Gumshoe line of games by its creator, Robin D Laws. I'm also lacking some decent pregen characters for it, but I can maybe get some folks to help me out in that respect.

6. Trail of Cthulhu
The second of my Gumshoe system choices. I've never really run horror before, and that's something I want to change. I've had Trail of Cthulhu a good few years now and haven't made much use of it except by referring to its descriptions of the Elder Gods for inspiration in other games. There's a pre-written scenario (The Kingsbury Horror) in the book and another one (The Murderer of Thomas Fell) available for free on the Pelgrane Press website I might try out, or there's some sourcebooks with other scenarios I might like to try out.

5. Ashen Stars
Yet another Gumshoe title, this time casting players as space cops-for-hire on the fringes of a galactic civilization fallen on hard times in the aftermath of a devastating war. I've got a couple of original scenarios (well, one is actually a 'what if' based on an 80s sci-fi movie) that I never got to use after my plans to run an Ashen Stars campaign fell through a couple years back, so I might dust those off and try them out for a couple of one-shots. Though, to be honest, Ashen Stars is one of the games I'd be more excited about running as a campaign.

4. Kuro
J-Horror meets futuristic noir in a Japan which has been isolated from the rest of the world by an international blockade, after an accidental nuclear strike was deflected by an electromagnetic storm of unknown (and most likely supernatural) origin. I've had this for about a year now and still haven't got round to running it. The problem with this one is the same as for Mutant City Blues: it's a tricky setting to plot for. But it's much higher on my list than Mutant City Blues because it's a much more recent purchase. Also, there is a pre-written scenario out now that I can run for it. The one in the book emphasised the tech aspects of the setting more than the horror, so I wasn't keen on using it. That said, the free one has the opposite problem, with more emphasis on the supernatural than the futuristic elements. I did come up with a scenario idea that mixes the two aspects, just need to write it up.

3. Fate Core
This is high on the priority list because I got it as a Christmas present last year. It's a pretty flexible system, so I could run almost anything with it, potentially. One of the first things I want to try running though is a Mass Effect game, since I found a rules hack for the setting online. I know one or two folks at GUGS who might be interested, assuming the timing is right. Other than Mass Effect, I don't have any other plans for scenarios to run with it, but shouldn't be too difficult to come up with stuff.

2. Timewatch
Back to Gumshoe again, this time for the most recent addition to the line, which puts players in the role of time cops trying to protect the proper timeline from tampering by those who seek to change history in their own favour. Truth be told, I've already run this once before, but I'm not counting that session because my adventure was blown out of the water (quite literally) before it had even really started. I intend to give the game another shot, perhaps with one of the three awesome pre-written adventures posted by etheruk on his blog, The Game Is Afoot.  

1. Night's Black Agents
Last, but highest priority on my list is another Gumshoe game. In this one, players are highly competent spies who have discovered that vampires exist, and have to fight for survival against the undead conspiracy. It's top of my list because it's the most recent addition to my collection, and also because the concept just sounds badass. I've been re-watching Burn Notice and will probably be watching more of it, and Spooks (among other such series) to get in the mood for this. I have a couple of pre-written scenarios to work from, but what I'm most looking forward to - once I've had some downtime to recover from DWAiTAS - is trying my hand at running a campaign of it.

So, that's the list of games I want to run one-shots of. I'd give more details about actual scenarios, but some of my future players might be reading this, so I don't want to risk spoiling things if they are.

That's all for now, see you later!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine: Tales of the Arx Jericho - Episode 06: Remember New Alamo! Part 1

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho
In our last episode, drama filled the air, as it quickly became apparent how sickeningly cheerful and snobby new pilot Opsie Wessel really was. Meanwhile, Jason fell into a depression over the news about his mother being captured by the Mayzor in the recent raid on Sydney. Serena confessed to Rick that repressed memories had resurfaced, since their shared dream during the interface test.

Later, while Alpha Company was hanging around in a secluded garden, Preservation Forces officers and CRC scientists appeared. A Company hid and listened in on the conversation. The CRC scientists wanted Opsie to come train with Rafe Hunter and test out the Prophet immediately. Dr. Johnson agreed that she should distance herself from the other pilots, but Captain Kasherov disagreed. AK-47 said the Preservation Forces needed Opsie to lead Charlie Company until they could recruit more members and that her relationships with the other SAInt pilots need to remain strong and consistent. The CRC scientists sided with Dr. Johnson. Then, AK-47 mentions the strange premonitions Opsie has been having about a raid on New Alamo, but the CRC scientists and Dr. Johnson thinks that hogwash.

Each SAInt pilot had their own, individual, simulation test. They had to exercise their best skills against a Magnas, one on one, SAInt vs. Magnas. Jason, Rick, and Sarah all did very well. Jason did better than Billy and celebrated by racing Alex in a hoverboard, later that day, Sarah impressed both Serena and AK-47, and Rick not only did better than Joanne, he impressed Serena by scoring better than her. Serena just seemed off her game.

Nevertheless, with our young heroes' egos up, another month goes by, and Opsie has managed to fit in well with the other pilots. The boys love her, the girls secretly hate her, but she's the top in the class and always sneaking off somewhere private for hours at a time.

The raid on the Arx Galilee, above Sydney, was over after about a week and a half. The Wormwood wasn't destroyed or captured, unfortunately, it went back up into space, while the rest of the soldiers, locusts, etc. were eliminated.

Jason's been trying to reach his father with no luck. There is still no further word about his mother.

Rick, perhaps, has been having more nightmares than usual. Repressed memories have been coming back to him, too, since the interface testing. It's been slower than Serena's experience, but they're starting to come back. Rafe experimented on Rick as well.

Sarah's probably been having a fun time with Opsie, despite what everyone thinks about her. Whether she's forgotten what she saw about the New Alamo raid during the shared, interface testing dream or not is up to her; little does Sarah know that fate has it out for her and that Opsie may have been correct in her premonitions.

Our heroes were enjoying yet another, early morning breakfast when the alarms of a Mayzor raid started going off...
GM: Misha Polonsky

The Characters
Rick Hunter (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Jason Reyes (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

Sarah Werner (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

THURSDAY, JULY 3RD, 2031

It's been less than a month since our young heroes first met Opsie Wessel, a SAInt pilot and Sarah's cousin from Germany, who's received more attention than any other new student Rick, Sarah, or Jason have ever known. Nearly all the boys are obsessed with, Strudel included, and almost every girl despises her. Sarah is probably the only girl who legitimately likes Opsie. They are roommates and cousins, after all! Serena tolerates her about as much as Jason does, who tolerates Opsie's presence at best. Rick looks at Opsie like she thinks piloting is a game, which he doesn't find cool at all.

Some relationships have improved; others are still developing. Jason's never been one with too many friends, but he's working on it and hopes to greatly improve his relationship with Laurie in the coming months. Sarah and Rick have made progress on their relationships.

Sarah and Raspberry have been hanging out a lot more lately, playing video games and doing other, fun activities. While he may still have a crush on her, he's still only 12, and Sarah sees him as more of a younger brother and definitely a potential, good friend.

Rick has always looked up at AK-47 as a mentor and a friend, and their student-mentor relationship has been been slowly developing over the past year. In the past few weeks, Rick has been fortunate enough to get a lot of face-time with AK-47, as she helped him with his firearms training. Since seeing her talking with the CRC scientists and Dr. Johnson, Rick had been hesitant to ask her about his dad, but he finally did, and she told him he was alive and safe but that she couldn't disclose any more information.

Either way, Rick definitely's solidified his friendship with AK-47, and she'll be more inclined to focus on Rick as his mentor, especially with all the Mayzor raids that have been happening.

Speaking of the Mayzor raids, the Wormwood that landed aboard the Arx Galilee, above Sydney, Australia, has retreated back to space. SAInts returned from their mission down in Sydney to confront the Mayzor swarm and Locusts that had infiltrated the Arx. There were a  good number of casualties on both ends, and a good portion of the Arx has been destroyed, but the Preservation Forces prevailed and the SAInts preserved the safety of the citizens they're sworn to protect.

Deployment and Mission Objectives
The SAInt pilots are having lunch late in the afternoon, when the alarms suddenly blare from the loudspeakers and alert everyone on the Arx Jericho that there is a Mayzor raid in progress.

The pilots of Alpha Company quickly report to their SAInts, and receive their mission briefing once they're ready and secure inside their SAInts and online. Telepathically, AK-47 projects several screens in the pilots' cognitive minds, which they see with absolute clarity. There's a breaking news story reporting on a Mayzor raid in New Alamo, Southeastern United States Territory, where two Wormwood have landed on opposite sides of the city. Another screen displays a blueprint and map of the city, while several other screens reveal important, tactical information regarding the position of the Wormwoods and the Swarm and Locusts spread throughout the city.

The mission objectives are fairly straightforward:

1. Provide assistance to the military, as well as to the Preservation Forces' Robbies, in pushing the Mayzor Locusts back toward the Wormwoods.

2. Protect and save as many civilians as possible from the Mayzor Swarm.

3. Defend New Alamo and stop the Mayzor raid, but don't spread out too thin.

There are 20 Locusts total: 10 soldiers, grouped in pairs around the city, 5 Brawlers (1 at each Wormwood and 3 spread out in the inner city), and 5 Archers (1 at each Wormwood and 3 spread out at the edge of the city).

Bravo Company is set to deploy immediately following Alpha Company in order to provide backup.

At a speed of Mach 3, it takes Alpha Company almost no time to reach New Alamo. Once they hit their deployment point, the Jehu's Bow detaches, the wing shaped array of fins and directional verniers that make up the SAInts' Angel Wings help parachute them to the ground, and the Alpha Company SAInts direct themselves to land, more or less, in the center of the city.

Engaging the Locusts
As soon as Alpha Company lands, AK-47 wastes no time alerting Rick, Sarah, and Jason of the three Brawlers within FA range of each of them. They're spread out in an equal triangle surrounding the center of the city. Tall risers are crumbling, cars and trucks are flying through the air, buses are crashing through buildings like bowling balls, and the asphalt is splitting apart under the Brawlers' torrential destruction.

Rick, Sarah, and Jason focus on each of the three Brawlers separately, while Serena and Strudel help the military squash the Swarm that's slithering through the city streets, grabbing up civilians, and stealing them back to the Wormwood.

Sarah has been quite serious so far. In fact, she's never been so serious prior to an engagement in her entire life, and it likely has something to do with the fact that she's in her hometown of New Alamo and that Rick, Jason, and her had a shared dream about a Mayzor raid at this very location just months ago. Her Ego is maxed out, and she goes after a crab-like Brawler to the south and engages it, moving into FA range and positioning herself around a building, ready to lay it to waste with her Giant Killer.

Jason engages the northeast Brawler and takes position by a highway bridge at HB range. He positions his EZK-L Particle Beam on the bridge itself and takes aim down a long, straight road at the ravaging Brawler, which resembles a Hercules beetle.

Rick takes the northwest Brawler and engages it by running forward, performing a set of parkour moves off some buildings, and landing on top of a tall one with his Levic Flechette out and ready at FA range. He cocks the stone thrower like a Winchester rifle and takes aim at the dung beetle-like Brawler crawling through the streets below.

"Alright, Sarah, you have a clear shot, now take it!" AK-47 gives Sarah the order over the MetaTron. Sarah fires her combat rifle and destroys the crab-like Brawl in a riveting explosion. She's pumped, and she's definitely overcoming her despair of being afraid she won't have any fun. "Great job, Sarah!" AK-47 actually compliments her. Serena compliments her over the MetaTron as well.

"Excellent positioning Jason," AK-47 says over the MT, "You've got the shot. Go! Fire!" Jason's particle beam shoots through the windows of several cars and buses and hits his target dead in the center. Another explosion ensues and Jason hears Billy's voice on the MT talking to Joanne. "Jeez, I can't believe that dweeb nailed that shot!" Billy says. "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, holy cow! That shot was a crazy good shot, Jason!" Strudel exclaims  over the MetaTron; even his thoughts are hyperactive in voice.

Rick fires off his shotgun blasts at the dung beetle Brawler, and it explodes. "Very good, Rick, just like I taught you!" AK-47 says to him over the MT. There are a few times when Rick's Ego doesn't go up, and his SAInt's Id, thirsty for bloodshed and battle, does go up. Rick targets a pair of scorption-like Soldiers down below and sheaths his stone thrower. In his SAInt, Rick jumps off the building, draws his Arc Sword and Arc Knife, and lands right behind and in between both Soldiers.

AK-47 informs Jason and Sarah of the pairs of Soldiers in their vicinity. Jason takes cover to reload his weapon, while Sarah, who already happens to be threat range of two, different pairs of Soldiers, goes after the ones to the south. She fires off her Giant Killer and destroys them without a problem.

Serena and Strudel are still taking care of the Mayzor Swarm, while Jason lines up another shot across the city, from on top of a warehouse, through a window, and aimed at a petrol tanker in between both Locusts. The particle beam mixed with the fireworks prove to be quite a spectacular sight.

Sarah turns and lays into the other pair of Soldiers, annihilating them.

Rick shoves his Arc Sword and Knife into both Soldiers, practically shanking them, and finishes them off, fully obliterating them.

MetaTron Static
AK-47 is complimenting Rick, Sarah, and Jason, but her telepathic voice is starting to have static. Static in the MetaTron (we decided), are other thoughts and voices creeping in loudly (most likely from the surrounding area) and drowning out the main ones. AK-47 alerts them of the Archers on the outskirts of the city. Rick, Sarah, and Jason all take position.

Jason takes cover behind a building to reload. Strudel asks if he needs any help, and Jason specifically says, "No, don't come over here," not wanting to endanger Alex.

Rick calls Serena and Strudel to work with him in engaging the northwest Archer near the Soldiers he destroyed. They provide cover fire as a distraction, while Rick sneaks around into CQ range of the Archer, standing on the street behind the warehouse it's perched on.

Sarah engages the Archer to the south at CQ range, sneaking around behind it in a similar way.

Jason fires his particle beam and destroys his targeted Archer in yet another vivid display.

Rick jumps up onto the warehouse and stabs his Archer in the back, slicing its tail and decapitating it.

Sarah uses her bayonet Arc Knife and Sam-L Shield to cut and batter the Archer from behind, destroying it.

Rick hears Joanne mutter a compliment about form to Billy, followed by AK-47's voice. She starts saying something, but the static is far too loud, and then, all of a sudden, the SAInt pilots of Alpha Company can't hear anyone from HQ or anywhere else on the MetaTron, except for themselves.

At the same time, Bravo Company should have long been here by now. What's taking them so long?

Strudel comments on the loss of communication with HQ, and the others confirm it's not just him.

"Great. We've lost communication with them," Jason grumbles.

For a brief moment, the pilots ponder how the MetaTron could even acquire static or have this happen to them, but this is neither the place nor the time for that, because two bursts of lightning hit the ground at the north and south ends of New Alamo.

A Tale of Two Magnas
The Dominion class Magnas, Beelzebub, stands over 150 feet tall at the northern end of the city. Concealed by a dense cloud of black smog, where he hovers, he's a giant, hunched shell, perhaps resembling a scarab beetle, with insect wings and smaller, alien-robot wasps which cling to its shell. He is in HB range of Rick, Serena, and Strudel and FA range of Jason.

Meanwhile, the Principal class Magnas, Thammuz, stands between 100 and 150 feet at the southern end of the city. With its two heads, four arms, and four wings growing out of its humanoid body, it's fast, nimble, and dexterous, like a boxer, often leaping from one target to another.

While there are still Locusts on the battlefield retreating to the Wormwoods, and taking anyone and everything out that they can in the process, Beelzebub and Thammuz are larger threats to Alpha Company, especially since they're alone and have never faced a pair of Magnas before.

Jason immediately takes cover behind a building to reload, while Rick engages Beelzebub at CQ range, getting behind him with his sword ready. Serena and Strudel, once again, provide cover fire to make this possible.

Beelzebub, meanwhile, regenerates a wasp, which hides itself in the Magnas's smog.

Sarah finds herself in Thammuz's threat range when he lands, and she already has her bayonet knife and shield out and ready, so she stabsThammuz at close range, injuring him.

There's still no communication over the MetaTron.

Jason leads a coordinated, team attack against Beelzebub. He fires a particle beam directly at its supposed front, while Strudel and Serena provide cover fire from the left and right, and Rick stabs its body through the smog cloud with his sword.

Sarah attempts another melee attack, but Thammuz kicks her butt and injures her SAInt pretty badly, considering she's in his threat range. Sarah takes cover behind a building and enters a game of cat and mouse with the Principal Magnas. She goes in for another attack and hits Thammuz this time, taking out a few more arms and wings. He's well on his way to being defeated soon.

Rick takes the lead this time and continues shoving the blade into the Dominion Magnas, while Serena and Strudel continue to fire, and Jason helps distract Beelzebub. However, the Magnas seems to have more powerful with every hit its taken, and they are unsuccessful. It shoots laser beams back at Jason, and a wasp blows up in Rick's face, and both of their SAInts take structural damage. Strudel is endangered by the Magnas and, perhaps, one of the remaining Archers. Serena is fine, but Sarah's parents, who happen to be still be stuck in the city, are endangered as well. Perhaps it's a Mayzor Swarm or perhaps a Locust. Hopefully it's not a Magnas.

Whatever it is, it looks like she'll have her answer soon.

Sarah hears Allen, her brother, hailing her on the MetaTron.

TO BE CONTINUED

[Weekly Geeky Report] Pirates & Bounty Hunters, Grimm and other stuff...

It's been a while since I did one of these, but since I'm trying to get back to blogging I figure I'll start doing them again. I still think I need a better title (for the blog and this regular segment of it), but this one will have to do for now.

Swag
Against my better judgement (since I should really be saving my money, and Jim Butcher's Skin Game is out now, so why the hell haven't I got it yet?), I decided to go ahead and buy the Double Tap sourcebook for Night's Black Agents, which is my newest and currently favourite RPG at the moment. I've only skimmed the sourcebook so far, as I have problems reading PDFs off the computer screen, but so far it looks like there's a lot of cool extra stuff for the game in there. I'm really looking forward to running Night's Black Agents (playing it would be even more awesome, but I don't know anyone who'd GM it for me) and I'll probably pick up The Zalozhniy Quartet to run as a short campaign over summer. That's assuming I'm not still burnt out from wrapping up my Doctor Who campaign (which, by the way, still isn't in the bag).

I also spotted Hotline Miami in a Steam sale yesterday for about £1, so I went ahead and yoinked that as well, but since I wrote this up just after buying the game, I haven't actually got around to playing it yet.

Achievements Unlocked
Due to some issues with our regular venue and a bit of ping-ponging back and forth as to whether one of my players was in the mood to play or not, the Doctor Who finale didn't run this week. Hopefully we'll be able to arrange a time we can all get together again to finish it off, since one of our group is now heading out of Glasgow for the summer.

Anyway, instead of running the finale on Tuesday I sat down and played a game of the Firefly board game with Peter, Ruaridh and Sean. This was only the third time I'd played (not counting the one solo game I played as practice at home) and this time we were using both the Breakin' Atmo expansion and the newly released Pirates & Bounty Hunters expansion, which Peter had recently acquired. The expansion added an extra layer of PvP that I really enjoyed, but it's probably not for everyone. The new ship, the Interceptor (which fans of the show will recognise as Jubal Early's ship), seems just a little on the borked side. It can go further than any other ship can at full burn, and doesn't need to use fuel to do so. As such, even though I won the game that night, I'm going to chalk it down to having a massively overpowered ship, and not my awesome captaining skills.

I've hit the halfway mark in Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon. I don't know why I've been reading the book so slow, considering it's actually a pretty good book, just not been in the reading mindset recently, I guess. And I think my ability to grasp what is going on in the story has suffered due to my sporadic reading of it, having to remind myself who this character is that's been mentioned, or what that plot element is. I'm definitely going to have to come back to this book sometime and read it all the way through from start to finish. It won't be right away, though, because I've had the book out of the library too long already and can't renew again. Maybe I'll download the audiobook on Audible and listen to it instead.

I also finished off season one of Grimm. Grimm is definitely one of those shows that requires some patience to get into. The first batch of episodes weren't really anything all that special, I felt. It seemed like a pretty generic police procedure mixed in with urban fantasy. The main character is a homicide detective who finds out he's descended from a mystical lineage of 'Grimms' whose job it is to maintain the balance between the human world and a world of fairytale monsters referred to as 'Wesen'. Seemed like your standard 'dude finds out he's the chosen one and has to figure out how everything works' deal. Nothing wrong with that, just not anything particularly special about it either. But once you start getting to know the characters, and they start  exploring the world a bit more, it slowly starts to grow on you.

I still have a couple of issues with it, mainly that the terminology of the series is really hard to keep in your head, consisting of a variety of German-derived names like 'Blutbad', 'Fuchsbau' 'Hexenbeist' and 'Mauzhertz' which take a while to sink in. Obviously this is inspired by the German origins of the Brothers Grimm fairytales which the series is based on (and the heritage of Monroe, who is Nick's main source of knowledge on the hidden world), but it can be a bit hard to keep track of all the terms at times.

Another problem is that the progression of the series main arc plot seem pretty scattershot. The Reapers, for example, appear to be an unknown to Monroe in 'Lonelyhearts', but a few episodes later he mentions 'Reapers' as if they're a known group, though perhaps this is just a term he and Nick have adopted after their previous encounters. And in 'Love Sick', seemingly without anything in particular to provoke a renewed interest in it, Nick becomes more driven to unlock (heh) the secrets of the key left to him by his aunt, which just happened to be the MacGuffin driving that specific episode. And finally, the season finale cliffhanger didn't feel like a season finale cliffhanger. It felt more like a mid-season/late-season cliffhanger, so it felt like a bit of a jarring note to end on. But, these issues aside, the show is growing on me, so I'm probably gonna move on to season two very soon, since it's available on Netflix UK.

Works In Progress
After a long hiatus, I started writing the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfiction again. I'm mostly redrafting the first 'episode' into prose form (since I originally wrote it in script format as an outline). Once I'm finished with the redraft of that, I'll start work on rewriting the next episode and hopefully I'll be ready to start posting online before the new series of Doctor Who starts in August.

I've also been giving a bit of thought to what I'm going to run as one-shots for the Freshers' weeks at GUGS in September. It does depend largely on whether I pick up the new Firefly RPG over summer (because if I do, I'll definitely want to run that), but I have a long list of one-shots (both pre-written and my own original ideas) that I could use during the introductory fortnight. One of them will almost certainly be Gumshoe, since that's my thing right now and it's a pretty easy system for new players. I just need to decide whether it's going to be Night's Black Agents or Timewatch, or one of the older Gumshoe games.

Anyway, that's been my week in terms of geeky stuff. The next post you'll see on here is the last of my cross-posts of Misha's write-ups for Tales of the Arx Jericho, the Tears of a Machine campaign I've been playing over Google+ Hangouts on Thursday nights. The next session should be tomorrow, and I'll probably try doing the write-up for that myself rather than copying Misha's. Although, Misha writes in more detail than I think I could manage in my own write-ups.

Well, that's all for now, see you later!

Friday, June 6, 2014

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine: Tales of the Arx Jericho - Episode 05: Tests and Summer Drama

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho
Last episode, SAInt pilots of Alpha and Bravo company were instructed by AK-47 to greet a new student and SAInt pilot of Charlie Company at the dorms. When they arrive, Sarah's face is wide as she sees who the new student is. It's her cousin from Germany, Opsie Wessel, the blond, blue eyed girl that Rick and Sarah saw in their individual dreams, during the interface test, and that Rick, Sarah, and Jason saw at the end of their shared dreamscape battle against a horrendous Magnas.

Meanwhile, a Preservation Forces officer of the Western Pacific Division approaches Jason for a word in private. He delivers sad news from his father, that reports state Jason's mother was ca ptured by the Mayzor swarm during the recent attack on Sydney. This left Jason stunned.

GM: Misha Polonsky

The Characters
Rick Hunter (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Jason Reyes (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

Sarah Werner (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

Greeting Opsie
FRIDAY, JUNE 13, 2031
This episode begins right where the last one ended. The WPDPF officer leaves Jason, and Opsie and Sarah continue to stare at each other blankly before finally approaching each other, with the others, to talk. Opsie gives Sarah a bright smile and greets her with a warm, embracing hug, shouting, "Hi cuz!" Sarah returns the greeting and introduces everyone. Opsie is obnoxiously loud and friendly as she greets everyone; she immediately comments out loud on the fact that she finds Jason cute. This angers Laurie, who's standing right there. Strudel's eyes are ogling Opsie, and Stephanie crosses her arms in anger, when she notices. As they head inside the dorms, Opsie's snobby side emerges, and she immediately begins criticizing everything, blabbing on about how much larger and more lavish her dorm was on the Arx Galilee. Rick doesn't seem to like Opsie, but he doesn't mind her all that mnuch; Jason, on the other hand, feels like vomiting every time she speaks.

Jason heads to his dorm room to sulk, while Rick heads off with Serena to her room, so that they can have a private conversation.

Sarah and Opsie head to the girls' dorms as well.

Serena and Sarah are both stopped by Dr. Harris who asks one of them to be Opsie's roommate. Serena immediately replies, "Not me," and Sarah tells Dr. Harris she doesn't mind sharing her room with Opsie.

Billy and Joanne head to their respective dorms, while Alex and Raspberry stealthily follow the girls to their dorms in order to spy on Opsie and Sarah.

Drama Inside the Dorms
Sarah takes Opsie on a tour around the dorms and listens to Opsie drone on and gloat about how her dorms are better, how the Arx Galilee was better, how she was the best SAInt pilot on the Arx, top of her class, an extra special pilot, awesome at video games, especially Shinobi Knights 5. Somehow, Sarah is able to smile, listen, and nod her head throughout, but when Opsie mentions SK5, Sarah's ears really perk up. Sarah challenges Opsie to a match, and they start playing. It's a close match. Actually, that's a joke. Sarah beats Opsie by a landslide, and there's another spectator in the room as a witness. Sarah and Opsie see a shadow from the doorway and look up to see AK-47 standing there and giving them a stern look. Sarah smiles. AK-47 advises her to catch Opsie up on where they are in math class and warns them about a pop quiz tomorrow. She leaves. Sarah and Opsie laugh and resume playing video games.

Meanwhile, Rick takes a seat next to Serena on the edge of her bed. He asks her if everything's OK and goes on to ask her about the shared dreams they had. At first, she doesn't want to talk, but Rick's soothing words manage to convince her. Serena breaks out into tears, when Rick asks her about the needle that Rafe shoved into her neck. She places her hand on that spot on her neck, tears rolling her eyes. She confesses that over the past hour, a flood of painful, repressed memories have resurfaced in her mind, and they're overwhelming, and she doesn't realize how she couldn't remember them in the first place, and she's terrified. All Rick can do is embrace her and comfort her. He, too, mentions he has repressed memories coming back and that it'll all be OK.

Jason is alone in the dorm room he shares with Rick. He dials his mother on the video chat on his Linc, connected to a monitor in the room. No response. He dials her again. No response. He dials her a third time. Still no response. Jason does this for a good hour, or so, before he hears a knock on the door. It's Laurie. She wants to come in, and even though Jason wants to be left alone, he opens the door for her.

Laurie enters with a small handle of vodka and two plastic cups in one hand and a carton of orange juice in the other. She asks Jason if he wants a drink, and Jason, depressed, doesn't say no. She pours them both drinks and sits next to Jason, comforting him.

After a bit more time playing video games, Sarah notices a shadow in the open door quickly move. She decides to follow it and spots movement turning around the corner, down the hall. Sarah gets to the elevator lobby and looks around for whoever or whatever that was. She looks around the back of a trash can in the corner, nothing, but then Sarah peeks inside the trashcan and notices an outstretched newspaper and two hands gripping it, nervously shaking. Raspberry lowers the newspaper, and his face is as red as a tomato. Sarah convinces him to tell her the truth about what he's doing here, and Raspberry replies he was spying on her and Opsie. Sarah tells him he doesn't need to spy on her, he's always free to join them, and Raspberry's face turns even brighter. He climbs out of the trashcan and hurriedly presses the elevator button to get away. Sarah leaves him and spots Strudel across a perpendicular hallway, by the elevator, before turning down her hallway and walking to her room.

Sarah grabs Opsie and heads to Serena's room, knocking on the door. Rick asks Serena if they can come in, and she silently nods her head yes. Rick says, "Come in," and Sarah and Opsie tell them they want to go check on Jason. Serena and Rick join Sarah and Opsie, and, together with Strudel, who they randomly run into in the hallway, head over to Rick and Jason's room.

Outside their room, Rick presses his thumb on the sensor pad that opens and locks his door. The door slides opens, and all five pilots see Laurie straddling Jason atop his bed and the drinks that are out. Rick immediately closes the door, and Opsie's grinning the entire time. She reaches for Rick's hand, and, after he fails to pull it away fast enough enough, Opsie presses his thumb to the sensor pad and the door opens again. Laurie continues kissing Jason for a moment, and then they both stare at everyone. Laurie and Opsie exchange looks, which Sarah and the others discern as looks of jealousy and competition. Laurie eventually gets off and leaves the room, while Rick turns on the sink in the bathroom. Jason is clearly drunk, and Rick takes his head and douses it under the sink in attempt to sober him up. There's a knock on the door.

Sarah quickly hides the liquor bottle, and Rick opens the door. It's Billy. "What are you doing here?" Rick asks. Billy walks in complaining about the upcoming test tomorrow. AK-47 stopped by his room and told him to go to bed early. Rick mentions that they know about the pop math quiz, which Sarah and Opsie mentioned to everyone. Billy's eyes go wide. He's talking about another simulation test tomorrow. He didn't know about the pop quiz! Jason's stupidly laughing, and Billy starts get heated up, threatening him.

Rick moves in to restrain Billy, but Billy resists. Sarah helps Rick restrain Billy's arm, while Serena's yelling at Billy. Finally, Billy's resolve is broken down, and Rick continues to hold him, while Serena slaps him across the face. Rick tells him to calm down and leave, and Billy does so, his pride once again wounded and his face red.

Sarah, Serena, Opsie, and Strudel stay with Rick to help sober Jason up. Afterwards, they grab a late night snack and head to their dorms to bed.

Pop Quiz and Cafeteria Drama

SATURDAY, JUNE 14, 2031
The next day, the SAInt pilots have their pop quiz, which a good number of students knew about (yes, they sometimes have classes on Saturday). Rick actually studied and earns a fairly good grade. He does better than Joanne and Billy, for sure. Jason, despite his hangover, does better than Billy, surprisingly. Strudel's impressed. Jason does better than him too. Sarah cheats off Serena again, though she has to hide her paper and act natural more times than usual, as it's AK-47's class. Sarah still manages to get away with a passing grade.

The pilots are showing each other their papers and going over test scores at the cafeteria. Opsie is gloating with a small crowd around her. Serena looks extremely bummed. Rick asks her what's wrong, but Serena doesn't want to talk about it, as usual. Rick convinces her to spill the beans, and Serena says she got a 99% on the pop quiz and studied, whereas Opsie got a 100% and didn't. Rick consoles her as best as he can. Opsie continues to gloat, and Jason and her get into a tiff. Jason says some harsh words about why she arrived here, if she's so great, instead of defending the Arx Galilee, which is under attack. He walks away from the table. Opsie shuts up and walks away too. Soon, Joanne passes by Rick and stops to ask him what grade he got. When he tells her, she's in disbelief and asks him to see his paper. Her face goes mad, she throws the paper back at him, and proceeds to dump her leftover mashed potatoes and gravy over Rick's head. Joanne leaves the cafeteria. "What the hell?" Rick yells and chases after her. Sarah goes after them, as well.

Outside the cafeteria, in the hallway, Rick asks Joanne why she did that. Joanne laughs at him, then puts on a serious, angry look again and replies that he got a better grade than her and that he's annoying. She walks away. He sighs and realizes Opsie is at the other end of the hallway. She blinks, having seen the whole thing. They don't say much. Sarah enters the hallway and leaves with Opsie. Rick leaves to go wash himself off.

Back in the cafeteria, Jason nearly spills his drink over his Linc, accidentally. Strudel comes over and asks Jason how he's doing. Jason grumbles, and then Strudel asks him to fix his broken Linc. Jason grumbles some but goes and fixes it. Strudel thanks him, giddy and impressed. Laurie is impressed to; she walks by and gives Jason a wink.

Whispers in the Garden
Rick, Sarah, Jason, Serena, and Strudel decide to meet up in the secluded garden (where Strudel once picked flowers out for Ryoko and again for Stephanie) before their simulation test with the other companies. It's a giant square, flush with greenery, surrounded by urban buildings and alleyways. While hanging out, they're suddenly caught off guard as they see AK-47, Dr. Johnson, and a couple of CRC scientists talking and walking through into the garden. The quickly hide. Jason hops into some bushes, Serena hides in some plants. Rick, Sarah, and Strudel quickly climb up a tree and onto the closest rooftop within earshot. Together, Alpha Company closely observes the conversation, watching and listening. AK-47 mentions how the Preservation Forces need Opsie as team leader of Charlie Company at the moment, but the CRC scientists demand that she report to Dr. Rafe Hunter immediately. She's only ran simulation tests for piloting the Class-P SAInt, she hasn't actually attempted to yet and needs to, they say. They also say that Opsie's communication with the other pilots should be severely limited. AK-47 protests, but Dr. Johnson sides with the CRC scientists. AK-47 stands her ground, saying Opsie needs to develop strong relationships with the other pilots, and she needs to be team leader of Charlie Company for now; she might even supersede Serena as team leader of Alpha Company, who knows? AK-47 says Opsie can visit the CRC and work on her tests simultaneously. The CRC begrudgingly accept her terms. Throughout the conversation, the word, 'The Apostle Project' is mentioned a few times.

After they leave, Alpha Company has a brief conversation amongst themselves before heading to the simulation testing facility.

More Drama and a Solo-SAInt Simulation Test
They meet Bravo and Charlie Company at the vending machines in the main lobby. Billy starts throwing insults, calling Alpha Company Aardvarks, and Joanne joins in. Together, Rick, Sarah, Jason, Serena, and Alex rally everyone, as they have a trash-talk competition and win, getting everyone to laugh at Billy and Joanne, including pilots on their own team! Opsie and the new Charlie Company laugh along, as well.

This time, the simulation test focuses on individual skills when piloting the SAInt. Each pilot goes head to head with a Principal-Dominion class Magnas and shows off their best skills against it.

Rick goes up against the Magnas with his Arc Sword and Arc Knife, slashing and cutting away at the Magnas at CQ range. Joanne's not impressed that he does better than her, again, but Serena is impressed. Rick actually does better than Serena and realizes she's off her game because of Opsie.

Jason utilizes his best skills at HB range and takes cover amongst buildings, while repeatedly sniping at the Magnas, delivering clear, precise shots. He, once again, does better than Billy and impresses Strudel, as well as AK-47 and the other pilots.

Sarah takes her time with the Magnas, staying back and observing its movements before moving in at the perfect moment. She repeats this strategy several times, and lands a few, well-timed blows on the Magnas, earning respect from AK-47 and Serena.

Opsie outshines Serena once again, and after the test is over, the pilots go have supper together in the cafeteria.

The rest of the month flies by fast, as the summer semester is prone to do.

TO BE CONTINUED

Next Time
Cue music.

New Alamo is under attack! What? Two wormwoods? It's just like the shared dream! The swarms are taking civilians by the hundred. Oh no! One of them's chasing Sarah's parents!

Alpha Company is deployed and faces one of their most brutal battle yet against a horde of Soldiers, Brawlers, and Archers. Bravo Company is being sent as backup, but something goes wrong.

Aside from the military and their Robbies, Alpha Company is all alone. Suddenly, a Magnas descends from the heavens, followed by another. What? There's two of them? What's going on?!

Stay tuned!