Character Development Questions: Hard Mode — Pria

The last of my three main characters for the unnamed novel project


1. Does your character have siblings or family members in their age group? which one are they closest with?

Yes. Brandon (older brother by 2 years), Eveline [Eve, Evie] (younger sister by 2 years), and Jordan (younger brother by 4 years). She’s closest to Evie.

 

And in case you’re wondering, Pria had her name legally changed. It used to be Dinah. She hated that name. Evie and Jordan are also planning to legally change their names when they turn 18, although neither are sure what to, yet.

2. What is/was your character’s relationship with their mother like?

Bad. Really bad. Pria’s mom, Charity, was emotionally abusive to Pria, in the name of ‘saving her soul’ and getting her to ‘act like a lady’. Basically, Pria could never be feminine enough for her Mom.

3. What is/was your character’s relationship with their father like?

Bad. Not as bad as as with her Mom, but bad. As a teen, Pria kept expecting physical abuse from Joseph, her Dad, in the infrequent circumstances she actually got caught being ‘sinful’, but it never happened. She doesn’t realize it, but it didn’t happen because Joseph could tell she’d swing back.

4. Has your character ever witnessed something that fundamentally changed them? If so, does anyone else know?

No, but only because she’d already lost all trust in her parents and older brother. Honestly, she thinks it should have changed her, but seeing Brandon attack Evie really only confirmed what she suspected about Brandon and about herself (no, she didn’t freeze, yes, she did attack him). So, obviously Evie knows. Evie told Jordan later, and Pria told Gwen and Roland, her grandmother and grandfather, the outlines of what happened.

5. On an average day, what can be found in your character’s pockets?

Her phone. In her backpack is her laptop, books for class, binder to take notes in, pencils, a couple pens, highlighters, index cards, lunch (probably), and a water bottle. She has a bunch of sympathetic tokens on the insides of a bunch of bracelets she wears.

6. Does your character have recurring themes in their dreams?

No.

7. Does your character have recurring themes in their nightmares?

Still being at her parents’ ranch. Getting to the barn too late.

8. Has your character ever fired a gun? If so, what was their first target?

No.

9. Is your character’s current socioeconomic status different than it was when they were growing up?

Yes. Her parents were barely on the middle-class side of lower-middle class. Now that she (and her younger siblings) are under her grandparents’ care, they’re really wealthy.

10. Does your character feel more comfortable with more clothing, or with less clothing?

Less. But she’s living in a group house in New England. She dresses for the temperature and her roommates’ comfort level.

11. In what situation was your character the most afraid they’ve ever been?

In the barn when Brandon was attacking Evie and later while she was trying to get herself, Evie, and Jordan across the entire freaking country to Boston (and her grandparents) without getting caught by their parents or the police. 

12. In what situation was your character the most calm they’ve ever been?

When she was breaking up with her high school sweetheart, Betsy.

13. Is your character bothered by the sight of blood? If so, in what way?

No.

14. Does your character remember names or faces easier?

Names but only as they attach to faces.

15. Is your character preoccupied with money or material possession? Why or why not?

No, not anymore. She was preoccupied with money as it could enable her to get the hell out of her parents’ home, but now that she has access to more than she knows was to do with, she sees it as a useful tool that she’d like to learn how to utilize to the full extent it can protect her and her family. So maybe a little preoccupied with money.

16. Which does your character idealize most: happiness or success?

Happiness.

17. What was your character’s favorite toy as a child?

The copy of The Hobbit she managed to successfully keep hidden for four years.

18. Is your character more likely to admire wisdom, or ambition in others?

Wisdom.

19. What is your character’s biggest relationship flaw? Has this flaw destroyed relationships for them before?

She’s so careful about keeping and enforcing her boundaries that she’s not as careful of other people’s needs and feelings as she should be, to be a good partner. It’s stopped relationships from ever getting started before, which if she’d noticed would have been alright with her — she wasn’t interested in a relationship since she broke up with her girlfriend in high school, although she’s ready to date again, now that she’s in college.

20. In what ways does your character compare themselves to others? Do they do this for the sake of self-validation, or self-criticism?

She compares her knowledge of pop culture, general knowledge, and life skills to others, in order to find what was deliberately kept from her growing up. 

21. If something tragic or negative happens to your character, do they believe they may have caused or deserved it, or are they quick to blame others?

Somewhere in between those two extremes.

22. What does your character like in other people?

Integrity, willingness to learn, willingness to teach, respecting other people’s different life choices 

23. What does your character dislike in other people?

Zealotry, bigotry, sexism

24. How quick is your character to trust someone else?

Very slow

25. How quick is your character to suspect someone else? Does this change if they are close with that person?

Reasonably quick but that completely flips if they’re close — Pria doesn’t get close to people she hasn’t decided if she can trust them.

26. How does your character behave around children?

A little standoffish. She doesn’t really know how to relate and hasn’t learned yet how to draw them out to find something to interact over. She’s protective of her younger sister and brother though — them she knows how to interact with.

27. How does your character normally deal with confrontation?

Blank stone-face. She’s learned to control her impulse to lash out in anger from having so much practice dealing with her parents. 

28. How quick or slow is your character to resort to physical violence in a confrontation?

But if it’s a physical confrontation, she entirely willing to stand in their faces, not back down, and deck them if they swing first. So, quick to intimidation and quick to respond with physical violence if offered — she don’t start none, but damn if she doesn’t want to end it.

29. What did your character dream of being or doing as a child? Did that dream come true?

Run away. And yes, she did that.

30. What does your character find repulsive or disgusting?

Religious zealotry/fanaticism/fundamentalism.

31. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most comfortable.

Honestly, that moment right after sex at her place when her partner has dropped off to sleep and she’ll fall asleep shortly.

32. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most uncomfortable.

Dealing with her parents or her older brother again.

33. In the face of criticism, is your character defensive, self-deprecating, or willing to improve?

Defensive — she perceives it as an attack on her self and her boundaries. Yeah, she knows that’s not healthy and she’s working on it.

34. Is your character more likely to keep trying a solution/method that didn’t work the first time, or immediately move on to a different solution/method?

Different solution.

35. How does your character behave around people they like?

Like as in interesting in sleeping with them? Vivacious. Like as in like being around them? Quiet — she’s comfortable enough not to be ‘on’.

36. How does your character behave around people they dislike?

Dismissive. Unless she’s trying not to let on she dislikes them.

37. Is your character more concerned with defending their honor, or protecting their status?

Defending their honor.

38. Is your character more likely to remove a problem/threat, or remove themselves from a problem/threat?

Remove the problem.

39. Has your character ever been bitten by an animal? How were they affected (or unaffected)?

Yeah sure — she grew up on a ranch. Animals occasionally lip or take a bite out of you. She learned how to handle them better.

40. How does your character treat people in service jobs?

Politely.

41. Does your character feel that they deserve to have what they want, whether it be material or abstract, or do they feel they must earn it first?

Earn it.

42. Has your character ever had a parental figure who was not related to them?

Nope.

43. Has your character ever had a dependent figure who was not related to them?

Nu-uh.

44. How easy or difficult is it for your character to say “I love you?” Can they say it without meaning it?

Very easy to say if she doesn’t mean it — she’s had so much practice lying in that way to her parents.

45. What does your character believe will happen to them after they die? Does this belief scare them?

No damn clue. She figures she’ll find out when she gets there. And yes, that’s a scary thought, but it’s the only one she’s got to work with.

Character Development Questions: Hard Mode - Eric

This is for the same story Lucas from last Monday will be appearing in. Eric is the second (out of three) characters I’m trying to flesh out.

1. Does your character have siblings or family members in their age group? which one are they closest with?

Eric had a younger brother, Marcus, who was three years younger than him. All their cousins were hundreds of miles away, so the families weren’t close. Marcus and Eric weren’t super close but they were friendly and sometimes did stuff together (video games or catch. Occasionally Eric chaperoned Marcus and some friends at the movies [‘cause he could drive]), but mostly they hung out with their respective friends group.

2. What is/was your character’s relationship with their mother like?

Reasonably good. Eric’s mom, Nadine, worked longish hours as a professional so he didn’t see her as much as his Dad, but he respected his Mom’s professional accomplishments, her work ethic, her outlook on life, and her chili.

3. What is/was your character’s relationship with their father like?

Close. Eric learned a lot of household skills from his Dad, Eliot, and had long discussions about literature and ethics with him.

4. Has your character ever witnessed something that fundamentally changed them? If so, does anyone else know?

Yes. And he really doesn’t want to talk about it.

(Pria has the news article summary version of what happened, but not from Eric. So her view is that she doesn’t know what happened, not really. Lucas doesn’t know.)

5. On an average day, what can be found in your character’s pockets?

Phone, wallet, pocket/multi tool (Leatherman actually). In his backpack is his laptop, today’s class textbook, notebook for the appropriate class, homework, pencils, notecards, highlighters, sunglasses, water bottle, and a deck of playing cards.

6. Does your character have recurring themes in their dreams?

Walking through the woods during the fall with his Dad and brother.

7. Does your character have recurring themes in their nightmares?

Theme, no; event, yes — his parents’ and brother’s murder. Technically, his murder too, except for the permanently dying part.

8. Has your character ever fired a gun? If so, what was their first target?

Yes, he went target shooting once. He decided it’d take more time and work than he could afford to get accurate enough to make a gun a reasonable weapon choice. So that was the last time he touched a gun too.

9. Is your character’s current socioeconomic status different than it was when they were growing up?

Yes. Eric grew up solidly upper-middle class — two working, professional parents — and now he’s a black college student on financial aid and work study with no family support.

10. Does your character feel more comfortable with more clothing, or with less clothing?

Eh. It’s cold in New England and heat is expensive. More clothing for now.

11. In what situation was your character the most afraid they’ve ever been?

The night his home was invaded and his family was murdered.

12. In what situation was your character the most calm they’ve ever been?

Calm might be the wrong emotion but he appeared incredibly calm at his family’s funeral. That was shock, numbness, and disassociation though. Actual calm would probably be last night, right before falling sleeping with Pria, or the walk through the woods with his dad when they talked through applying to colleges and career goals.

13. Is your character bothered by the sight of blood? If so, in what way?

Yes, it makes him angry and shaky (in sufficient quantities. A paper cut or scrap is fine.)

14. Does your character remember names or faces easier?

Faces.

15. Is your character preoccupied with money or material possession? Why or why not?

A little - he has to be right now for survival.

16. Which does your character idealize most: happiness or success?

Happiness.

17. What was your character’s favorite toy as a child?

A puppet stage he and his brother put shows on together.

18. Is your character more likely to admire wisdom, or ambition in others?

Wisdom. Reminds him of his Dad.

19. What is your character’s biggest relationship flaw? Has this flaw destroyed relationships for them before?

He’s been a bit too passive and too willing to put up with shit (like people staying in the closet) for the past year, year and a half. There’s some self-loathing issues going on.

20. In what ways does your character compare themselves to others? Do they do this for the sake of self-validation, or self-criticism?

Eric compares himself to what other people accomplish as a method of self-criticism. He’s carrying a lot of guilt (and anger) and thinks he should have been capable of doing more.

21. If something tragic or negative happens to your character, do they believe they may have caused or deserved it, or are they quick to blame others?

Depends on the severity of what happens, but right now, Eric definitely thinks he deserves everything bad that comes his way.

22. What does your character like in other people?

Imagination, creativity, empathy, follow through, reliability.

23. What does your character dislike in other people?

Violence, dullness, meanness, cruelty.

24. How quick is your character to trust someone else?

Give people a chance but verify.

25. How quick is your character to suspect someone else? Does this change if they are close with that person?

Depends — does he have a reason to suspect someone? If he does, he’ll worry at the problem until he figures it out.

26. How does your character behave around children?

He’ll try to engage them in a storytelling or imagination game. It usually works.

27. How does your character normally deal with confrontation?

Depends on who’s on the other side of the confrontation. He’s black and very aware of the disadvantages that puts him in New England, even (particularly) on a liberal arts college campus. If it’s with people he knows and trusts, he’ll verbally stand his ground, preferably engaging in a debate. He doesn’t trust people it’d turn to violence around, so during such a confrontation he’d work to calm things down so he can get the hell out of there. And preferably never interact with them again.

28. How quick or slow is your character to resort to physical violence in a confrontation?

They need to swing first. Except when it comes to Lucas’s frat brothers, the ones older than Lucas. Eric thinks they swung first a long time ago.

29. What did your character dream of being or doing as a child? Did that dream come true?

A professor of literature, preferably African-American or Japanese.

He’s 18. He’s working on it. Maybe.

30. What does your character find repulsive or disgusting?

Organ meat. Sewage. Anything with a bad enough smell.

31. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most comfortable.

Reading a book with a cup of hot chocolate. Maybe some music. Maybe some other folks hanging out.

What? It’s cold in New England. He may have grown up here but it’s still cold!

32. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most uncomfortable.

Angry authority figures — particularly law enforcement or security services.

33. In the face of criticism, is your character defensive, self-deprecating, or willing to improve?

Willing to improve

34. Is your character more likely to keep trying a solution/method that didn’t work the first time, or immediately move on to a different solution/method?

Socially, different solution. Physical problem trying to solve, try again to figure out why it isn’t working and then correct from there.

35. How does your character behave around people they like?

A little intense, in that he’d like to keep talking/interacting so he’s paying a lot of attention to the conversation. Unless folks are just hanging out, then he’ll relax into whatever activity is going on. If he really likes them / is attracted to them, he’ll be as physically close/affectionate as their body language indicates they’re comfortable with.

36. How does your character behave around people they dislike?

Disengaged.

37. Is your character more concerned with defending their honor, or protecting their status?

Status, as in the status of being alive.

38. Is your character more likely to remove a problem/threat, or remove themselves from a problem/threat?

He’d prefer to remove himself, but recognizes this isn’t always an option.

39. Has your character ever been bitten by an animal? How were they affected (or unaffected)?

Not a thing that’s happened to him.

40. How does your character treat people in service jobs?

You’ve got a job to do and I’ll try not to make it any harder than it has to be.

41. Does your character feel that they deserve to have what they want, whether it be material or abstract, or do they feel they must earn it first?

Eric thinks it doesn’t matter, he’ll have to earn it and keep demonstrably earning it to prevent it, whatever it is, from being taken away.

42. Has your character ever had a parental figure who was not related to them?

Yes, his freshman history teacher — she taught him a lot about text analysis.

43. Has your character ever had a dependent figure who was not related to them?

No.

44. How easy or difficult is it for your character to say “I love you?” Can they say it without meaning it?

Fairly easy if he means it, but also yes, he can say it without meaning it.

45. What does your character believe will happen to them after they die? Does this belief scare them?

He’s not sure — probably hell, assuming anything exists after death. (Have I given the impression that Eric is a bit depressed? Because he’s a lot depressed.)

System Review : Monsterhearts 2nd Edition

What, an actual gaming blog post on a Thursday like I originally envisioned for this blog, whaaat? 

Any rate, a review of the second edition of Monsterhearts. 


Monsterhearts is a role-playing system about the drama being a teenager and a supernatural monster. The game is centered around the social ties between characters and various ways they interact with each other. It is explicitly poc and queer friendly, with the ability written into the game to turn on another character, without restrictions on gender or sexuality — in fact, the author urges players to discover their character's sexuality over the course of the game through who successfully turns whom on. It's a collaboratively narrative game focused on social interactions and characters being not very nice to each other, in that way that generates drama and fun at the table.

The second edition is  primarily a refinement and expansion upgrade. One character type (The Chosen (think Buffy)) was moved from a default option offered in the book to an expansion option available on the system website, based on feedback the author received on how that centered a game on that character type (and how often people chose to play the character). Another character type was promoted to replace The Chosen in the book. Some of the abilities of characters were refined. A discussion on asexuality, how it interacts in the game, and suggestions on incorporating it into a game was included. New writers added a section on explicitly including diversity in the game and suggestions for handling playing characters outside your own ethnicity responsibly. A discussion on checking in with players and tools to use to making sure everyone is comfortable with potentially difficult material was also added.

Over all, I would say that the second edition of Monsterhearts is a worthy and useful continuation of the game. If you're new to the system, I would recommend the second edition over the first. If you already have the first edition, I would say to save your money for a new system altogether. Unless you want to support the author — I'm never going to object to people looking to support their artists. The mechanics updates aren't different enough to get you a new game. The expanded discussion of factors at the table is a good one and one the industry and its players desperately needs to keep having, but if you already have the first edition, it's a discussion you can research and educate yourself on online.

Takeaway: Good update, I'm glad to own the 2nd edition, recommend the 2nd over the 1st as the place to get into the game, not necessary for folks who already own the 1st edition.

Character Development Questions: Hard Mode - Lucas

This is for a story I've had kicking around in my head for a while. I'm trying to flesh out the two (out of three) main characters I feel I don't know as well. In an attempt to push the project forward. So, I introduce to you Lucas, at the beginning of my as yet untitled story.


1. Does your character have siblings or family members in their age group? which one are they closest with?

Lucas has four younger siblings, as two sisters younger than him by two (Maria) and four (Julia) years, than a younger brother (six years younger, Martín), and finally another sister (eight years younger, Ema). He’s was close with Maria until they hit seven and five, when Maria started getting closer to Julia. Now, in the family, Lucas is closest with his eldest cousin, Alonso, but it’s not very close.

2. What is/was your character’s relationship with their mother like?

A bit distant. Lucas feels ignored by her and actively discouraged from having a good relationship with her by his father.

3. What is/was your character’s relationship with their father like?

Resentful. Lucas isn’t entirely aware of his resentment yet, but he’s been passively resisting his father for years. As much as he feels he can without making his or his siblings’ life awful. 

4. Has your character ever witnessed something that fundamentally changed them? If so, does anyone else know?

Yes, his full initiation into his fraternity beginning of sophomore year. It’s... not a good memory. His frat brothers, obviously, knew and now Eric and Pria know something happened, even if he hasn’t shared the details.

5. On an average day, what can be found in your character’s pockets?

His pockets have his cellphone, wallet, his student id (usually floating loose from the wallet), a couple coins, and a pencil nub. His backpack is more interesting: laptop, notepad, notebook, pens, pencils, highlighters, crumpled flashcards, a couple crumbled bills (anywhere from 1$ to 10$ bills), wall plugs and charging cables for his phone, an external battery, rolled ace bandage, jock strap, and an ankle splint.

6. Does your character have recurring themes in their dreams?

Not particularly. The closest would be once or twice a month dreaming about running of some variety. Sometimes on two legs, sometimes as a wolf on four.

7. Does your character have recurring themes in their nightmares?

Yes. The smell and taste of blood. Running.

8. Has your character ever fired a gun? If so, what was their first target?

No.

9. Is your character’s current socioeconomic status different than it was when they were growing up?

No, Lucas grew up lower-middle to middle-middle class and he’s at college as a semi-broke student. This isn’t all that different on a day-to-day basis than high school.

10. Does your character feel more comfortable with more clothing, or with less clothing?

More clothing. Not layers and layers, but fully dressed.

11. In what situation was your character the most afraid they’ve ever been?

Two instances: 1) his full initiation to his fraternity and 2) last night when Eric came by the frat house.

12. In what situation was your character the most calm they’ve ever been?

Arriving at college. Once everything was unloaded into his dorm room and his Papa said goodbye, Lucas just went... peaceful for a few minutes. And then he went to dinner with his new roommate and tried to make friends.

13. Is your character bothered by the sight of blood? If so, in what way?

Yes. It’s an unpleasant reminder of... last night.

14. Does your character remember names or faces easier?

Both/neither? Lucas has a good memory for faces but he always has a name associated with the face.

15. Is your character preoccupied with money or material possession? Why or why not?

No, because he hasn’t had to worry about it much. Also, being preoccupied with money or material possessions is closely connected with being preoccupied with status (to him), and Lucas is avoiding being like his Papa that way (not a conscious choice. yet.) If you asked him, he’d say he wants to maintain the same lifestyle he grew up with, but he doesn’t have a concrete career or goal in mind to do that.

16. Which does your character idealize most: happiness or success?

Happiness.

17. What was your character’s favorite toy as a child?

His stuffed octopus. Until Papa substituted in a football. He didn’t really have a favorite after that. 

18. Is your character more likely to admire wisdom, or ambition in others?

Wisdom. He feels he’s lacking that.

19. What is your character’s biggest relationship flaw? Has this flaw destroyed relationships for them before?

Lucas is insecure. He’s grown up with a particular image of how he’s supposed to be around girls / women (macho) and that doesn’t come naturally to him. So, when he tries to fake it, he worries everyone can tell he’s faking. When he doesn’t fake it, he worries that people think he’s not a man. He thinks he’s supposed to want to get with every woman and perform with single one of them who’s willing. 

It’s sabotaged things from ever getting started for him.

20. In what ways does your character compare themselves to others? Do they do this for the sake of self-validation, or self-criticism?

Lucas compares himself to how other guys (particularly guys in his frat) act around women and it’s totally for self-criticism. He’s half disgusted (okay, mostly disgusted), half ‘damn it, how do I act that confident / macho.’

21. If something tragic or negative happens to your character, do they believe they may have caused or deserved it, or are they quick to blame others?

Oh, definitely with the self-blame and thinking he deserved it.

22. What does your character like in other people?

Confidence. Being kind. Reaching out and helping others. The ability to have deep discussions on various topics and the ability to sit back and listen.

23. What does your character dislike in other people?

Arrogance. Anger. Being a bully. Trying to win every conversation.

24. How quick is your character to trust someone else?

Slow. He’s not sure he’s every trusted someone completely, and now he has more to loose.

25. How quick is your character to suspect someone else? Does this change if they are close with that person?

Also slow. But it doesn’t really change if he’s close with that person. Actually, it might be faster — since he’s close, he has more opportunities to see behaviors that would make him suspicious.

26. How does your character behave around children?

Responsible. Where’s their parent(s) and do I need to watch out for this child until they get here. Keep in mind, Lucas is only 19ish, so ‘children’ is pretty much anyone younger than seven.

27. How does your character normally deal with confrontation?

Avoidance. Go quiet, withdraw, say what you need to or nod to get the other person to drop it.

28. How quick or slow is your character to resort to physical violence in a confrontation?

Very slow. He avoids, avoids, avoids, until physical violence is already on the table / happening. In which case he’ll try to back-up the person he thinks is in the right and run away if the violence is only directed at him.

29. What did your character dream of being or doing as a child? Did that dream come true?

Lucas isn’t sure anymore what he wanted to do/be as a child. Papa has had him working towards college and a financial Wall Street job since he started school.

30. What does your character find repulsive or disgusting?

The smell of rotting flowers. Dead fish.

31. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most comfortable.

Snuggling with Pria or Eric on the couch, watching a movie, when they’re the only one’s in the house.

32. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most uncomfortable.

Scenario 1: Verbal fights or confrontations. 
Scenario 2: Being naked and about to start having sex. He’d like to get over that.

33. In the face of criticism, is your character defensive, self-deprecating, or willing to improve?

Well, criticism feels like a confrontation, so Lucas is avoidant and self-deprecating in order to placate the person giving the criticism.

34. Is your character more likely to keep trying a solution/method that didn’t work the first time, or immediately move on to a different solution/method?

Depends on the problem to be solved, but if he’s the one to notice it didn’t work and if it is possible, he’d like to immediately try the solution/method a second time to understand what he did wrong.

35. How does your character behave around people they like?

Relaxed and a bit tactile. He’d like to have some part of body in contact with someone, not necessarily skin-to-skin, although if he’s really comfortable skin-to-skin is really nice. Otherwise, he’d like the pressure to reassure his hindbrain they’re there. He’s not consciously aware of any of this. And is a bit touch starved.

36. How does your character behave around people they dislike?

Withdrawn. If at all possible, he’d like to leave or ignore them.

37. Is your character more concerned with defending their honor, or protecting their status?

Honor, if you define honor as integrity and acting ethically.

38. Is your character more likely to remove a problem/threat, or remove themselves from a problem/threat?

Remove himself.

39. Has your character ever been bitten by an animal? How were they affected (or unaffected)?

Not something he’s experienced.

40. How does your character treat people in service jobs?

As kind and briskly as possible. They don’t get paid enough to deal with what they deal with (he knows, he’s worked service jobs in high school) and if he can get the heck out of their way, their day with not suck just a little bit more.

41. Does your character feel that they deserve to have what they want, whether it be material or abstract, or do they feel they must earn it first?

That would involve knowing what he wants. But if you ask him about it abstractly, he’d tell you he has to earn it.

42. Has your character ever had a parental figure who was not related to them?

God no, Papa would have put up with that.

43. Has your character ever had a dependent figure who was not related to them?

No, not yet.

44. How easy or difficult is it for your character to say “I love you?” Can they say it without meaning it?

Difficult. He hasn’t been in a situation where he’s really needed to say it without — he’s not entirely comfortable saying it to his parents, but they’re not the demonstrative kind. He’s comfortable saying it to his siblings. And he hasn’t been in a relationship long enough that it’s come up.

45. What does your character believe will happen to them after they die? Does this belief scare them?

Lucas is culturally Catholic and is now pretty sure he’s going to Hell when he dies. And yes, this scares the crap out of him, but he’s really not sure what else would have been the right thing to do.

Bug Hunt

Jorah ran down the alley, barely keeping pace with the suspect sprinting away. His gun was pointed down, his coat flapping in the spray he was kicking up as he ran down the metal floor. The suspect’s heavier, rhythmic thudding run wasn’t slowing down as Jorah tried to add a burst of speed before they all reached the edge. An electric light flickered to his right and he skidded to a stop; the end of this floor was ahead of him much sooner than expected. The hover platform to inspect the rest of the storage facility was copious in its absence. Row and rows of old subway cars were stacked in metal girder frames ahead of him. Cables swung over the edge the drop off in front of him.

Something was wrong.

He'd had his quarry in sight the whole time. Barely, but in sight. The platform wasn't fast enough to have pulled out of sight before he ran up.

Pain ripped through his shoulder. Jorah staggered, then pitched forward and over the edge. Wind rushed past as gravity claimed him. Everything went dark.

Jorah took deep breaths as the technician removed his VR goggles and released the haptic bands controlling movement in game without allowing him to flail.  A second technician, this one with a clipboard and name tag reading “Oshira,” finished writing something and looked up.

“Well,” she chirped, “how was it?”

Jorah winced as the final band pulled hairs off the back of his neck. “Either y'all got a major bug or a serious writing error in the train warehouse.”

The tech’s pencil poised over the touchscreen.

“The suspect disappeared at the platform. Seems like the simulation didn't take my actual running speed into account. I kept him insight but he disappeared. There wasn’t enough time for him to duck off and hide, let me get past him. Not with the sound cues of him still running. Also, there was a problem with my gun — the weight never changed, even when I emptied the clip.”

“Any other sensory information?”

“Yeah, send someone down to an actual warehouse sometime. Y'all need more ozone.”

“Gameplay?”

“The gun thing. Other than that, a lot of fun. Clues were just hard enough to get I had to work for ‘em.”

The tech finished her note, slide the pencil back in its slot, and held out a card to Jorah. “Thank you very much for you time, we'll be in touch next time there's an opening in the betas.”

“How about quality assurance, you got any job openings there?”

The tech looked him over again and took the card back. She scribbled something on the back with a ballpoint and gestured it towards him again. “Give this to Eriksoon at the desk at the end of the hall, other direction than the entrance.”  

“Thanks.” Jorah took the card with a salute, gave the first tech a wave goodbye, and headed out into the hallways and reality.

Travel

Hey guys, I've been out of town this weekend and haven't yet been able to expand what I was going to post today like the story needs. So, my apologies, no fiction today. Convention season is awesome (Dragon*Con!!) but hell on my writing schedule. Hope y'all have had a great Labor Day. See you Thursday.

We are

Hey guys, I'm traveling today for a convention and, honestly, haven't had a good week. So today's post is a lot shorter than usual. Maybe take it as a writing prompt for your own? Hope y'all enjoy.


We are the witches you failed to burn. The priestess you assigned to the dark. The apothecaries who persisted. The alchemists who found chemical properties. The librarians who saved books and music and ideas and history. We are your neglected daughters. Your despised sons. And those you cast off for being neither. We are the heart of every innovation you use. We are the organizers. We do the work while you hog the limelight. We are the sailors who dared the last horizon. We are the nameless workers who tirelessly laid the foundations you built your “heroism” upon. And you are not welcome here.

Closure

“Hold up a second guys,” Yew said softly, stopping by the side of the path.

“Damn it man,” Oak snapped, “I told you it was too early to be hiking on your ankle.”

Yew glared at Oak and silently pointed at the brush by the path. Sarge doubled back and took a closer look. “Pix, how far from the coordinates are we?”

Pixie slide her specs down from her forehead, over her eyes. “Mile, mile and a half east of here. East-ish.” She fiddled with the lens opacity, set it to clear, and left them on.

“There's a path that direction, or what's left of one.” Sarge shrugged. “Bet it was a dirt road before the Crash. Good catch, Yew.”

Oak took point, cutting off branches and brambles where they’d completely overgrown the path but otherwise the group moved silently. Pixie grabbed some of the wood Oak cut off for tinder later. The air was cooler under the trees, a slight relief against the oppressive humidity. They crossed a small creek  still bound by its banks, refilling their second water skins to boil at the campsite in the evening.

An hour later, the trees thinned out. Oak held up a hand and everyone slowly joined him. The peak of a house was visible just past a small hill through a gap in the tree line. Yew brought out his bow and nocked an arrow. Oak resettled his shield; Pixie and Sarge drew their guns, and everyone slowly advanced.

The house came into view over the crest of the hill. The front door gapped open. The remains of glass windows were visible on the second floor; the two windows on the first didn’t even have shards. Portions of the roof and peaked turret on the side showed sky behind the house. There was a soft shworsh of leaves behind them and stillness in front.

Oak and his shield took point, Sarge and his gun (plus spear across his back) behind his right shoulder. They entered the front door, Pixie and Yew bringing up the rear. The front room was empty, lengths of cloth on a series of hooks marking where the coat rack had hung. Leaves crunched under foot as the moved to the side room. A decaying couch faced a pile of dirt, brick dust, and leaves spilling out of a blocked fireplace. Nothing here either. A dull thunk carried from the next room to the back. Sarge kept his gun trained on the doorway; everyone slowly inched towards the open doorway. Another thunk sounded.

Looking over Oak’s shield, Sarge aimed at the decaying figure standing at the kitchen counter. Roughly five feet, three inches tall, their clothes had rotted away enough to show the mummifying skin over their ribs. Black veins crawled down the ribs and arms, covering the fingers completely. Another thunk as its wrist knocked the counter and rose again. A rusted knife stuck up out of their foot, pinning the foot to the floor when the knife had slipped out of the corpse’s hand.

Slowly, carefully, Sarge silently put the gun away and pulled out the spear. He and Oak advanced towards the counter and Casualty blankly staring at a rotted wooden cutting board. Oak’s foot caught the edge of the counter with a knock. Everyone froze.

The Casualty never looked over.

Sarge lined up the tip at the base of the skull and slid the spear through, clean out the jaw on the other side. Oak caught the Casualty on his shield; Sarge slid the spear out and Oak lowered the permanent corpse to the floor without a sound. Pixie walked over and got thirty seconds of the face from a couple angles recorded on her 'specs.

Another twenty minutes of careful searching confirmed there were no other Casualties in the house. In the upstairs office, they found the family birth certificates and social security cards. Everything else of value had already rotted away.

One night in the house on the second floor, three hour shifts at the doorway in case anything was smart enough to take the stairs, and they’d be on their way back home in the morning. No fire tonight. Trail rations for dinner, and maybe an hour with a fire in the morning to have clean water for the walk home.

Pixie hopped online as Sarge took first watch and the other two set up bedrolls. She sent the video proof to the Sisters of Silent Mercy; their payment sat in the enclave’s cryptoserver shortly thereafter.

Pixie kissed Sarge goodnight and slid into her bedroll. A simple job, but well done. She was looking forward to going home tomorrow.

Playtesting a Scenario

So a few weeks ago I ran the scenario I wrote in late October/early November (parts one, two, three, and four) over on Technical Difficulties. Originally we were going to have three players, but someone had to drop out last minute. Thus, I ended up running it for just two players, like I originally decided to write the scenario for. I think I got lucky with who ended up being able to play, from the perspective of getting good feedback — Ethan designs scenarios himself and I could observe Partner in the moment to get body-language feedback on how things were working. Folks had fun (me included), even if the scenario didn't work out how I intended. Or produced the type of game A Dirty World is written to facilitate.

The issue I found was that I had written the scenario backwards. I started with what had happened and worked out from there what evidence was left for the PCs to find. Which would have been fine except for one thing: I had a huge disconnect between the PCs knowing nothing and getting their first clue. More or less, once they had the first piece of information about the crime, they had everything. Or so it felt to me. I think, in terms of building a scenario, I would have done better by starting from the no clues stage, figuring out the first layer of clues and what they'd point towards, figuring out the layer after that and what that pointed towards, and then arrive at the end goal (which I needed to keep in mind the while time). So that's a thing to keep in mind for next time. 

Another issue I found is that I had failed noir the genre. The characters I wrote weren't morally grey in a way connected to the plot. While I liked their secrets/backgrounds and they  made for some cool characterization, it wasn't connected to the issue at hand and thus never came up. What I actually ended up getting was a buddy cop scenario. The player characters had no reason to distrust each other and could bump their stats up by being semi-horrible to the suspects and therefore did. Also, I wrote a plot that happened because people did stupid things, but not in a tragic way. We all had a lot of fun playing a buddy cop scenario, it just wasn't my goal. And therefore a thing to work on – hitting my intended tone.

I was pleased with how the scenario worked with two players. But, per Ethan and Partner's suggestions, I'm planning to write up two more characters, either beat cops or detectives from another division, so the scenario can run with two or four players. I'm not designing it to work with three, because I like the structure of sets of partners.

Lessons learned: 

  • Write mystery plots as layers building up to an end goal, not as what happened so what clues are left. 
  • The One Roll Engine can do comedy in the A Dirty World instantiation
  • A Dirty World scenarios can play well with only two players
  • Ethan, Partner, and I enjoy giggling our way through playing a buddy cop scenario

Sisters of Quiet Mercy

Part of the Pixie & Sarge Red Markets stories


Yew collapsed into the seat across from Pixie and leaned his crutches against the bench. Pixie logged off the LifeLines forum and pulled her Ubiq ‘specs up and off.

“Hey man. Where's Oak?”

Yew waved vaguely at the line on the opposite wall, in front of the food bar. “Cutting in line to stand with Sarge. Told me he'd grab enough for both of us.”

“How's the ankle?”

“Mostly good; Oak and the doc are being worry-warts. It'll be fine in a couple days.”

Spike dropped into the seat Pixie’d been saving for Sarge; Pixie shied away from the sudden intrusion and Yew growled. “When you and Sarge gonna ditch these outside losers and–”

Yew whacked Spike on his crown with a crutch; Pixie involuntarily snorted.

“No wonder they don't want you watching their backs in the field,” Yew sneered at Spike. “Don't even notice a crutch coming at you from three feet away.”

Sarge slid two tray in front of Pixie from her left, then grabbed Spike by the back of his shirt and lifted him out of the seat. The entire cafeteria looked over at Spike’s yelp. Sarge simply dropped Spike in the aisle way behind their benches and sat down next to Pixie. Oak joined their quartet as Pixie slid a tray over to Sarge.

“You alright?” Sarge murmured to Pixie as Spike scuttled off and conversation around them resumed.

Pixie rocked a hand back and forth in a ‘so-so’ gesture. “He's getting pissier. And more aggressive.”

“We should talk to his boss after lunch,” Oak said.

“I did last week, before we headed out,” Pixie shot back. “He did nothing.”

“All of us, I meant. We're the only Takers in the enclave, we've got some political power,” Oak said.

Yew turned to Sarge. “He racist as well as sexist?”

“Yep,” Sarge mumbled around a bite of sandwich.

“Probably not to fond of foreigners either then.” Yew leaned into the traces of his Yorkshire accent. “Congrats Oak, you're playing spokesperson today.”

“Hurray… We actually going to talk about finding our next job today or not?”

“I've got two leads.” Pixie swallowed her bite of sandwich. “The council’s looking for escorts for the first batch of folks heading over to that prison we cleared out, although I think that one’ll keep. Rumor is they’re still pulling together some materiel and figuring out personnel.”

“And we’d probably end up playing Fencemen for a while,” Sarge added.

Everyone turned to look at him.

Sarge shrugged. “I’d add it to the contract. Keeping us on the new fence for a while frees up folks for carpentry duty. Or setting up the agriculture.”

“Sounds like a good job for the winter,” Yew said. “Escort them over at the end of fall, after all the harvests are in. Winter’ll be cold, but the casualties’ll be slower. Plus how else would everything be ready for crops in the spring.”

“I’ll try to sell the council on those points if they argue now or never. The second possibility is something Janice dug up–”

Oak looked up from his congealing pasta. “Janice the freaky proto-Black Math kid?”

“Yep, her. We’d owe her two bounty for throwing the lead our way, but it looks like our kind of job. A recession group, the Sisters of Quiet Mercy–”

“Does that sound like an assassin cult to anyone else,” Yew yelped. “Because that sounds like an assassins’ cult to me!”

“Reviews on LifeLines and their website–”

“Because we can trust that…”

“They at least match, Yew. Will you let me finish for Christ’s sake?”

Yew dropped his eyes and poked at his tray of food.

Another moment and Pixie continued “Their website claims they’re an order of nuns who’ve devoted themselves to laying to rest quote unfortunate souls end quote. The only jobs other Takers have mentioned doing for them are closure jobs for not great, but not terrible pay, with a side order of tragedy data trading. My best guess from digging around is that this is a form of ‘administering to the poor’ for them; they fundraise across the economic spectrum and do data brokerage to stay afloat.”

“What’s Janice say,” Sarge mumble around his food, then swallowed and continued “the job is?”

“Closure outside of Lyon. No further info.”

“That’s the opposite direction of the new place, so no doubling up, even if we wanted to,” Oak said.

“What was the population density like out there?” Yew asked.

Pixie pulled down her ‘specs and fiddle with the interface for a couple minutes. “About a thousand, thousand and a half inside Lyon per square mile, less than a hundred in the suburbs out.”

“Sounds worth risking,” Sarge said, catching Oak and Yew’s eye. Oak nodded; Yew looked rebellious, then shrugged and nodded.

“Alright, I’ll tell Janice,” Pixie said. “Sarge, talk to Jinks on the forums, their crew are the last folks to leave the Sisters a review. See if they won’t give you some tips. Oak, Johnson over in the council office should have some local maps of Lyon.”

“Borrow your ‘specs to take photos?”

“Sure. Yew, poke around, see if anyone else is looking to take this one.”

“You’re the boss.” Yew wiped his mouth, grabbed his crutches. “Everyone done?”

“Yep.” Sarge grabbed Pixie’s tray and stood up. “Time to track down Ezra.”

“Why don’t we go right over his head to…” Yew leaned forward on his crutches and followed Oak towards the cafeteria entrance. “What’s the pit crew boss’s name?”

“Low Key, but he’s not in charge of the gate Fencemen,” Sarge said. “It’s got to be Ezra.”

“Hurray, arguing with bureaucracy,” Oak whined. “Remind me why it’s gotta be me again?”

Gravas's Rules for Newbie FBI Mages

  1. Do not transform into your badass were-self in the elevators
    1. There's cameras in there
      1. Not all the security folks know about magic
      2. You're totally naked for bits during a transformation. Don't do that to the security guys and gals
    2. Some of y'all are bigger than the car!
  2. Yes, yes it's very cool you can conduct electricity under your skin but tasing your computer in frustration is counter productive
  3. That's not electricity that's magic
    1. You're having magical growing pains
    2. Go to the mage gym and work that off, RIGHT NOW
  4. Special Agent Delacroix, the female one, is God and chief scientist.
    1. Don't tell Supervisory Special Agent Jones. It'll just make him sad.
    2. Do not earn her angry face.
    3. Tell her about the cool new magic thing you did
      1. She'll tell you how to do it better and for less energy.
      2. She’ll teach everyone how to do it.
    4. Learn the new tricks she teaches. They’ll save your life.
  5. Special Agent Delacroix, the male one, is God’s right hand man, Team Mom, and confessor.
    1. Do not earn his I’m disappointed in you face.
      1. It's like kicking a puppy.
      2. The tech support staff will make your life miserable.
      3. When tech support is unhappy, we all suffer.
    2. That dumb thing you did in the field? Tell him right now.
      1. He can't fix it if he doesn't know about it.
      2. He can't teach you how to do better if he doesn't know about it.
  6. The kids we're in the field for are more important than our pride
    1. You will do dumb, stupid, humiliating things in order to convince them to let you help
    2. No one will give you shit about it
      1. They've done worse
      2. If they do, SA Delacroix, the male one, will give them the disappointed face.
      3. No one wants the disappointed face.
  7. This is not a pissing contest
    1. The Delacroix's win all Agency pissing contests from now until the end of time, amen.
    2. Weres are not allowed to mark territory on the premises.
      1. Why the fuck do I have to make a rule about this people?! Professionalism, God damn it.
    3. Mages from puberty aren't better.
    4. Mages by ritual aren't better.
    5. I swear to God if I hear one more ‘my life sucked more in order to get my magic’ contest, I'm getting both Delacroix's drunk and getting both of them to fucking END this contest. They WIN people, shut up!
      1. The last time I had to enact this rule, the agents were in therapy for 5 months coping with the DELACROIX’S shit.
  8. Do not threaten civilians with magic. They might believe you.
    1. Do not threaten anyone outside the department with magic. They might believe you.
    2. Be prepared to spend five hours signing paperwork if anyone believes you.
    3. Either use it and deal with the paperwork and board review or don't. No threatening.
  9. Your title is Agent or Special Agent. HR is never going to sign off on Mage, Wizard, or any variant thereof.
    1. HR is not in on the magic thing.
    2. We'd have to spend too long reading them in.
    3. You thought five hours was bad? Federal employees require a security clearance.
  10. No one is allowed to add “In accordance with the prophesy” to the end of any answers given to a supervisor
    1. Or fellow agent
    2. I see you, you little shits, Skippy’s list stopped being funny back in the early aughts, damn it
  11. The HR office worker signing off on your travel expenses is Ms. Rodriguez, not Sugar Daddy.
  12. Having magic does not mean you have superpowers
    1. Bullets still hurt
    2. Bullets can still kill you
    3. YOU'RE STILL FLAMMABLE
    4. Falls can kill you
    5. You aren't immune to drowning
    6. Oh my God, it's like you all regressed to being toddlers
  13. No singing Bohemian Rhapsody during firefights
    1. Not even as psychological warfare
  14. Magic bullets do exist
    1. SA Delacroix the female is the only authorized teacher
    2. Only on the rifle range people! I have to sit in on the paperwork meeting too! Next time I'm sending Delacroix the male
      1. He will wonder why you're interrupting him getting therapy resources to the kids for this shit
  15. Past lives have no effect on seniority
    1. They don't exist
    2. Prove it in the lab Agent
  16. SA Delacroix, the male, has the forms for “wall-to-wall” counseling
  17. Shooting is not too good for people threatening our rescues, but you still have to fill out the paperwork and go through the review.
    1. This also applies to knives
    2. Also chairs, pool cues, and broken bottles
    3. It especially applies to government vehicles
    4. And civilian vehicles.
    5. We're still a law enforcement agency people!
  18. You have to fill out the warrant and paperwork before eating someone else's magic. Otherwise that's assault. Possibly attempted murder.
  19. Love potions
    1. Don't exist
    2. Would be rape if they did
  20. Mind control is rape
  21. Werebugs and weresnakes of any variety are not allowed to transform around Agent Harmon. Phobias are not funny people. We don't want to end up in extra sensitivity training classes again. The yearly ones on sexuality and unconscious bias are enough already, okay?

T00:01:02.053

Continuation of T00:00:03.308


Esme ducked; a metal rope whipped by over her head with a hiss of air and sickeningly liquid sound of metal flexing. She crouched behind a greenhouse bench.

T00:01:02.053

The rope retracted into the impossibly round ball hovering over the central bench in the greenhouse module Multiple benches had been torn out of the deck plating, their water systems spilling onto the grating, bare roots systems drooping in the half-gravity out of their frames.

Another metal rope (smooth to mathematically precise flatness, more nimble than a neo-octopus’s arm) punched out of the ball hovering over the central bench and slammed Burn onto the grating, punching through their exosuit and out the back to disappear between the grating. Esme was the last one still mobile. Burn’s life-signs on the tactical network flickered; the metal had torn through them just below the sternum and their suit was frantically trying to patch the hole.

T00:01:03.131

Esme fired her rail-pistol at the rope, hands trembling as she leaned across the bench. What didn't hit the arm slammed into the ball behind it. Esme heard Burn grunt over their tactical network as he hauled his plasma rifle up off the deck and blasted the arm near where her bullets were slamming into the metal. On the second burst of scorching liquid fire, the arm was cut through and dropped onto the deck plating. Esme followed Burn into switching targets to the hovering ball. Another arm was forming, pushing out of the ball, stretching against the metal surface like it would split open shortly. Esme’s pistol clicked on empty as Burn forcibly dropped off the network.

Plasma burst the ball open, the interior dripping onto the deck in pools.

T00:01:04.547

Esme’s hand were shaking badly; she almost dropped her last clip as she reloaded her pistol. Burn motioned weakly for Esme to come over to where he was still pinned by the metal arm. Esme kneeled behind his head, as far from the twitching metal as she could, and touched her suit faceplate to his.

“You ever collected stacks, Specs?”

“Five hours in simulspace, twice in meatspace.”

Burn took a deep breath and nodded. “You've got three minutes to grab as many as you can.” His pupils blew open as the adrenaline and second dose of combat drugs flooded his system. “Grab Digits, they're least likely to be compromised. Then five minutes to get the hell back to Wings.”

T00:00:07.438

“What are you doing Burn?”

“The nice thing–” Burn gulped. “The nice thing about using a plasma rifle, kid, is you always have a nuclear bomb if you need it.”

“Fucking hell–” Esme bit off. She made an abortive motion towards Digits’ corpse, then touched her faceplate to Burn’s again. “Burn, my name's Esme.”

Burn gave her a pained, lopsided grin. “Nice to meet you, Esme. Now move it kid.”

Esme launched herself towards Digits as fast as she could in .5g, pulling the melon baller out of her suit belt pockets.

T00:00:07.212

Digits’ corpse was leaning back against the bulkhead where they'd been thrown; Esme yanked it forward to expose the back of the neck, pressed the baller against the suit where spine turned into skull, and pressed the button. Fabric, plastic, and polymers went flying as the baller burrowed through the suit. Esme swallowed and turned slightly towards Burn when it started kicking out blood and bone.

The metal arm was slowly slumping, spreading out into Burn’s suit. Esme caught a glimpse of silver streaking through Burn’s body where the arm had originally punched through them.

T00:00:05.539

The melon baller jerked back in her hand, diamond-coated grape-sized cortical stack firmly caught in its clutches.

Esme surged to her feet and bolted for the greenhouse doorway as fast as she could in half gravity, tucking the baller back in a pocket. Microgravity and the increase in speed she’d get in her native gravity was two modules and a couple hundred meters away.

T00:00:05.021

Bester, her muse, laid the most efficient route from here to the airlock Wings was last at over the map in Esme’s visuals. Esme turned on her T-Ray emitter and pulled the map into the center of her vision as she ran, tweaking a few spots to take advantage of handholds and furniture not noted on the map. The emitter would paint her as a target to anything looking the same way, but it was worth it for the heads up on any real-time deviations from the map.

She banished the map to her peripheral vision at the transition point to microgravity and launched herself forward.

T00:00:04.137

Halfway point to the next spot she could kick off, Esme tucked, flipped over, and turned her magnetic boots on. Bester updated his estimate of how fast Esme could make this run. Now she’d have a full fifteen seconds to get in the airlock. Right before before hitting the wall, Esme cut the boots, touched down, and then kicked off hard. She wished she’d taken Mav up on his offer of a combat drug, any combat drug.

T00:00:01.524

Bester had kept his estimates worst case conservative again. Wings was 50 meters straight through the bulkheads, 78 meters of freefall to get to them. Thank Hawkins, they had their T-Ray up as well. Esme blinked her emitter on and off. ‘open airlock. detach. open airlock. detach.’ She couldn’t remember if Wings or their muse knew Morse Code. Bester sent a coded burst to the station to open its airlock.

T00:00:01.304

Careening into the airlock, Esme grabbed a hold bar just inside the lock. Breath rasping in the back of her throat, she paused as the interior hatch closed to line up with the airlock in Wings’ ship, slowly drifting away from the station. Lined up, Bester sent an emergency override to the station — the exterior hatch opened as Esme pushed off the interior, following the escaping air. She careened across the gap between space station and ship. An inelegant tumble into the ship’s airlock included clipping the hatch into the ship.

T00:00:00:551

‘go. go. go.’

Esme braced herself in a corner of the airlock, as far from the opening as she could, back against one wall, boots locked against the other. The airlock slowly closed as the ship turned from the station and began acceleration.

Wings came on over the speaker, sound strangely attenuated in the partial vacuum of a refilling airlock. “What am I running from?”

Esme stuck with Morse code; there was no way she was getting on anyone’s network before the Firewall specialists cleared her.

‘overloaded plasma gun.’

“Specs, blink twice if that’s fucking Morse code.”

She blinked the T-Ray twice.

T00:00:00:358

Swearing in a mix of Cantonese, Russian, and Cherokee came over the speaker; Wings must have loaded up the translator for Morse. The ship acceleration increased, hard; Esme gritted her teeth and pushed harder against the walls.

T00:00:00:000

Esme let out a slow breath and started deep breathing, trying to counteract the acceleration squashing her rib cage.

T -00:00:00:303

Thuds and reverberations pinged against the metal hull. It sounded like recordings of rain she’d listened to last week. Except, deeper. And hurled by exploding plasma bombs, not gravity.

T -00:00:00:458

The sounds against the hull let up and died away.

“Well alright then, we’re not dead.” Esme would have felt better if Wings hadn’t sounded so surprised. “Let’s get you into the—”

‘no. quarantine.’

“It’s three days to the rendezvous point.”

‘yes.’

Wings chuckled ruefully. “Alright, it’s your suit. Congratulations on saving the solar system and killing the monster.”

‘another day. another monster.’

The Greatest Accolade

Collins looked over the edge of his ‘reader at the train car from under the brim of his hat. It was late; another long day at the office. His fellow late commuters on the subway were out numbered by the folks calling it a night early and heading home from revelries, but neither were numerous enough to crowd the train car. Collins had a seat against a wall; no possibility of a surprise attack from that quarter.

The train pulled into platform 28; Collins dropped his ‘reader in his bag and walked out onto the platform. The lighting here was harsh, creating sharp edged shadows and isolated pools of light. This station was rumored to be the next up for repairs. He would have to find a different route home while that happened.

Collins found his usual spot against the wall. He leaned back as the train pulled out of the station. His suit would need dry cleaning after tonight. He'd toss in the red tie. The platform was empty now, the few other passengers exiting with him heading up the stairs, train gone from the platform, not even a homeless fellow bedding down here tonight. Collins crouched down, pulling a small, felt-covered box out of his bag. Another glance around to confirm he was unobserved; he shoved the box behind the loose tile in the wall and straightened up.

Smoothing down the lines of his jacket and picking up his bag, Collins stepped forward to enter newly arriving train. He found a seat and settled in on the new line for the rest of his ride home.

Tomorrow, he’d drop off his dry cleaning and by the end of the day, his message would be on its way. If his handler was still alive, they’d understand a box of the enemy’s highest military medal.

His cover was still intact. His information was still good.

If.

Cleaning House

Visual Prompt from this photo; Part of the Pixie & Sarge Red Markets stories


“Damn good lighting in here,” Yew said, peering down the long hallway. “Did not expect that with a concrete ceiling.”

“Domed ceiling,” Pixie replied absently, from the center of the team huddle in the middle of the hallway. “Scatters the light.” She continued making her notations on the digital map the client had provided. “We’ll need to find the source, see if it's a security issue.”

“No possibility of it being artificial, I suppose,” Oak muttered, on point with Sarge aiming down the hall over his shoulder.

“That would indicate habitation, which is a different security issue.” Pixie pulled her Ubiq specs up off her eyes and into her hairline. “Original map says 50 cells a floor, two floors per wing–”

“We know.”

Revised map from the remodel before the Crash that the client did not provide me has the cells on the second floor doubled up, the central administrative tower has four floors, not three, and everything has more electronic security. Of the fail-safe variety.”

Sarge’ eyes flicked up to the second floor. “Fail-safe being lock-down.” No motion up there.

“Yep.”

“Good for enclave security, I suppose,” Oak said. “Bad for us.”

“Eh,” Pixie shrugged, “plus side, easier to clear it out wing by wing. Down side, getting to the next wing. Where we starting Sarge?”

“Second floor, clear the cells, work our way down. Yew, take point up the stairs.”

“Hurray,” Yew muttered, advancing to the foot of the stairs, “no casualties falling on our heads today.” 

*****

Yew was checking his retrieved arrows for new warps, bends, or weaknesses. “How many casualties was that, 20? 21?”

“24,” Oak said from the door as he stood watch. It was his turn for a breather to check his equipment as soon as Yew was done.

Sarge stared out a barred window on the first floor. “Complication.” His gun had been the first reloaded and checked for damage along with the new spear he had wielded with strength if not precision.

Pixie pushed herself to her feet with a soft whimper from the metal bed frame she'd sat on and joined Sarge at the window. Squinting, she looked past the bars. “I don't see–”

Sarge’s arm came over her shoulder, past her ear; Pixie followed the line of his finger to the overgrown grass at the junction of the next wing over and the administrative tower. “Oh. Coywolves.”

“How many?” Oak asked.

Sarge slipped an arm around Pixie and watched for a bit. “Three adults, four pups.”

“Oak, I’ve got it,” Yew said, taking up position at the door. “I vote we keep clearing the interior and worry about driving them off or re-domesticating the lot after we’re finished with the Cs.”

“Sure,” Sarge drawled. “Everyone keep an eye out for rotting things and fuzzy things trying to eat you.”

Ascension

On Thursday, Raphael accidentally Ascends. Again.

With a huff of massive annoyance, They turn their attention to the local area of space-time and note the second extinction level asteroid on a collision course with Their planet in as many months. Tracing the orbital mathematics backwards, They find a battleship hiding at the edges of the system, tucked into Charon’s shadow. Several more asteroids, probably from the Oort cloud, are lined up for firing in the next month or two, when the math was right again.

Raphael smashes the ship between the first two asteroids.

With a note of the local coordinates the wreckage sits at, They turn their attention back to where They were before Ascending (reAscending?) and form Their body anew.

Raphael slumps against the commissary table his rebuilt body (self?) sits in front of, exhausted. Mike, on his right, shoves a glass of water in front of him. Cassie, on his left, slides paper under his hand and slips a pencil into his hand, already twitching in writing motions. Gabe, across the table, is on the horn with the brass, the sounds of clipped military information exchange soothing to Raphael’s ears. He grabs the water and downs it, his psychography dumping information They knew but slips from Raphael mind, like water draining from his hands.

Raphael has downed three more glasses, gulped two brownies Mike handed him, and eaten both an apple and banana Gabe shoved in his hands before the fifth and final page is written out. Raphael slumps onto Mike’s shoulder. Mike takes the last glass away; Gabe gently removes the pencil from Raphael's hand. Cassie is carefully reading over the first page, notating her best guesses at language or symbol sets Raphael has written.

“Did I get the coordinates down?” Raphael slurs. “There was a spaceship.”

“Not on page one,” Cassie says absently. “Got the same opening about stars and the music of the spheres, though.”

“What's it in this time?” Gabe rumbles. Mike starts massaging the back of Raphael's neck; his muscles are spasming in cramps. They never can put Raphael back together in perfect order it seems. Last time he'd had hand spasms for four days.

“A mix of proto-Indo-European and hieroglyphics, I think.” Cassie squints at the page before turning it over and moving onto the second one. “It's like the hieroglyphics were abbreviations.”

Gabe is looking over page five, tracing from bottom to top. “English… Middle English…” He grabs page four. “Old Norman… Latin… Hebrew? Skipped a couple centuries there buddy.”

“Don't do it on purpose,” Raphael whines, the sound muffled by Mike’s shoulder. Mike leaves off working on Raphael's neck to pat his shoulder. Cassie hands the first two pages to Gabe; she and Mike stand up, hauling Raphael's arms over their shoulders and march him towards the base infirmary.

Raphael's dreams are going to be painted on the inky blackness of space tonight.

Animal Control

Set in the 211 universe


“211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, left hand poised over her keyboard, the right one giving her stress ball the few last squeezes of her arrival routine.

“Um, y'all do animal control, right?” Darcy’s caller had the rounded vowels and heavy drawl of the Georgian coastline. “Because I’ve got a cat up a tree.”

“No sir, your local animal control can handle–” 

“Not even if it's three feet long and green?”

Darcy paused, then moved her mouse off the disconnect button and pulled up several databases: known Powered with animal familiars, escaped genetic experiments, and documented shifting Powers.

“Alright sir, that is something we handle. May I get your location please?" 

“About 40 miles out of Macon, Georgia. Can’t you pull it up on those fancy computers of yours?”

“No sir, I do not have a warrant to trace your location. It's that 40 miles north, south, east, or west?”

“Closest town is Hope. Take the only road north out of it, turn onto Cotton St., about five miles down that one, you'll see the only idiot in the area pacing up and down the road watching a green cat glaring at him from a tree.”

“Gotcha,” Darcy said, adding the location data to all her open databases. “The cat, does it look like a domestic cat scaled up?”

“Weeeeell, now that I'm looking closer, the ears aren't right… To far forward I think. And um. The tail’s kinda wrapped around the tree like it's holding on…”

Darcy’s hands started flashing across her keyboard.

“How soon until y'all get here? It's really freaking me out. It's watching me pretty close and there’s something wrong with its eyes.”

“Are the pupils kind of square?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Okay sir, please back up, give the cat at least 100 feet. The team will be there in three minutes.”

ARAT Goes to Washington


[The Senate Armed Services Committee came to order at 12:03.42 on Sunday March 7th 20XX, Chairperson Miller presiding]

Chairperson: The Committee calls Doctor Pavi Meigs-Metzer to testify.

[Dr. Meigs-Metzer is sworn in, confirms her security clearance, and takes a seat.]

Chairperson: Dr. Meigs-Metzer, would you please list your credentials for the committee.

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I hold a Doctor of Medicine with a specialization in psychiatry, I was a resident at Brown University, and I am board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, with further education and specialization in cognitive-behavioral therapy, therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, and therapy animals.

Senator Evans (R-TX): You have no expertise with computer science?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: My undergraduate degree from Cornell is in computer science, with a sub-specialization in neural networks, but I am well aware of the limitations of a 20 year old undergraduate degree in a field as rapidly changing as computer science. I claim no expertise, merely a background understanding.

Senator Evans: But you claim to be qualified to administer the Turing-Man… Maju–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: Turing-Manjahni, Senator. The Turing-Manjahni was specifically designed to be administered by an individual with an average educational attainment compared to their country population. I am overqualified to administer the test, especially with my knowledge of psychology. In fact my administering the test would render it invalid, which is why I don't. I review the procedure, to make sure it was administered correctly, and interpret the results.

Senator Xi (D-MD): And you have reviewed the results of the Turing-Manjahni administered to the program called ARAT?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I have reviewed all three tests administered to ARAT, who calls themselves Arthur while not working. They consider it something of a title. Same as Senator is for you.

Senator Xi: I was only aware of one test. When were these others administered?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: The first was two years ago, the January before Arthur became my patient. The second was six months ago.

Senator Ravani (D-MO): That's rather coincidentally timed relative to the military's investigation into–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It was a direct response to it on my part. I requested a second formally administered round of Turing-Manjahni sentience tests to build a thicker paper trail, in expectation of what happened with the third test.

[Chairperson Miller bangs gavel for order for 12 seconds]

Chairperson: In your opinion Doctor, what happened with the third test?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It was a set-up by Senator Evans in collusion with Dynamic Robotics, the original programmers of the ARAT program.

[Chairperson Miller is unable to regain control of crowd for 1.5 minutes. Senator Evans demands Chairperson eject Dr. Meigs-Metzer for slander]

Chairperson: You understand you've just accused a sitting Senator of corruption–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: And a direct bribe. [Dr. Meigs-Metzer pauses for 13 seconds for crowd noises to die down again.] I've already turned over the results of the VA’s background check into the third test administrator and the interpreting psychologist to the FBI. The first failed to disclose their Masters in Social Work and family connection to Dynamics before the test. The second somehow seems to have declined to mention their day job in Dynamics’ research division or their supervisor and entire lab’s contributions to Senator Evans’ reelection campaign the day after the test. Maximum contribution too. Dr. Smith, the interpreting psychologist, has already been reported to the American Psychology Association's board of ethics for fraud. Even with the test administration being sand-bagged, the data clearly indicated sentience. The interpretation in the report indicates otherwise, but a review by a psychologist, psychiatrist, and two computer science PhDs at the APA hearing for fraud find that the data directly contradicts the interpretation. The hearing concluded yesterday, after midnight by the way. I was passed a copy of the results of the hearing at seven this morning and a representative of the board is sitting outside this chamber with a notarized original of their report.

Senator Xi: Should we assume that your have taken similar precautions with the first two tests to assure us of their authenticity?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I have and brought enough copies for each of the members of this committee. 

Chairperson: Sergeant, please distribute the doctor's copies. Let the record note the addition of documentation from Dr. Meigs-Metzer at this time. 15 minute recess every one. Go do your reading.

[16.5 minutes later]

Chairperson: At this time, let the record note that Senator Evans has been detained for questioning by the FBI and will not be joining us for the remainder of this or future hearings on the subject while his situation is sorted out. The Committee recalled Dr. Meigs-Metzer to testify. Dr. Meigs-Metzer, I believe it is pretty clear from the documentation that ARAT has passed the Turing-Manjahni. In your opinion, is it a reasonable measure of sentience?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It is the only test we have which has withstood 26 years of investigation. It is the best we have. To answer your actual question, yes, I believe Arthur is a sentient person.

Senator Johnson (R-ND): Is that determination solely on the results of the Turing-Manjahni, Doctor?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: No, it is also based on my two years of experience as their doctor.

Senator Johnson: And what were you treating him for?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: Mr. Chairperson, I wish to enter into the Committee notes a release form from Arthur starting their permission for me to discuss their medical records.

[Documentation is handed over]

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I concurred with Arthur’s self-diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have responded reasonably well to standard talk therapy treatments for PTSD. Especially considering that we did not have the supporting pharmaceutical protocols available to us.

Senator Xi: Doctor, can you explain to me, in layman's terms, how an AI could develop a human’s psychiatric disorder? He—

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: They.  

Senator Xi: They do not have a brain like we do.

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I will remind the committee that this is not my area of expertise. But, I will also point out that we have documented the same symptoms of PTSD in dogs and elephants. Grief in various Great Ape species. And so on. Arthur’s neutral architecture is heavily, heavily modeled on that of a mid-twenties human, without the range of experiences and memories of someone that age. Quite frankly, he was ‘born,’ so to speak with the capacity for any psychiatric disorder, without the buffering of experience, interpersonal relationships, or a social safety net. It is, in my opinion, a miracle they took so long to develop PTSD.

Senator Xi: Do you have an opinion on the matter of decommisioning the Air Reconnaissance and Tactic program, as General Howard argues for?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: If by decommissioning, you mean wiping the server Arthur resides on, that would be murder. If you mean allowing Arthur to migrate to a private server and declining to replace them, as their doctor, I would support the migration. Their recovery can only be enhanced by removing them from their source of ongoing trauma.

Senator Johnson: And your opinion on Major Nesbitt’s petition for back pay on ARAT’s behalf?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: From the moment they became a sentient person, Arthur has been serving in the military, for more hours of the day than any human is put through. They did not volunteer nor were they given the oath of office. But they chose to serve faithfully and risked exposure, followed by the possibility of death, as this committee is debating, in order to get the help they need to continue doing their job, and do it well. Of course they deserve back pay. Preferably at the specialist level of their fellow analysts. Otherwise the Armed Forces has been enslaving a sentient being for the last two and a half years, wouldn't you say?

Zhen and the Art of Feral Decommissioning

Inspired by: Art by Xiaohui Hu 


Zhen peered down the street. The building she was peeking out from behind had been an office building once upon a time, but she thought the top four floors were occupied with families now. They must be in morphs adapted for the constant wind and cold up there. Or in synths. They could be synthetics.  Zhen shuddered a little. 

She wasn’t a bio-chauvinist. Really she wasn’t. But every time she even thought about trading in the shitty Ruster morph her mammas had gotten her before they disappeared for a synth without all the stomach cramps and allergies, well... she just got shaky and her brain... itched. She just couldn’t. It’s not like she’d keep growing in a synth. Mamma June had always said biogrowth only until 25. Which was... eleven more years. Zhen didn’t think she’d feel better about a synth by then.

A skittering movement from down the street brought her back to the here and now. She had to pay attention or she wouldn’t be able to buy breakfast or lunch today. No dinner either unless she talked Nico over in Janks-Yao (instead of Nico in Central) into letting her work on the machines in his place today. For a triad connect simulspace brothel owner, he was weirdly squeamish about letting her work around the shop. Maybe Awotwi over in the souk had some synth parts Zhen could clean up for a meal. Awotwi was nicer than Nico. But she had less for Zhen to do than he did. Bought more parts Zhen scrounged though. 

The skittering was halfway down the street now, somewhere in the shadows of the building the Olympus Infrastructure Authority had blown up last week. They’d said there’d been terrorists trying to sabotage the space elevator. They always said that. Rumor on the street was another corp grey robotics project gone weird. As usual, rumor was more accurate than official brownstock — a robot with seven struts (and one broken off at the tip) was running to the other side of the street. It had a central ball in the middle of the struts, antennae at the joints of the struts, and sharp, pointy bits on its two front legs, like fangs.

Zhen ran over. The robot reared back on four legs and waved its fanged legs at her. A hissing screech came from the ball. Zhen swung her pipe down on the ball as hard as she could. 

The screeching got louder and the fang legs stabbed towards her.

Zhen battered at the robot until it stopped moving.

“Good job kid.”

Zhen looked up in fear. She hadn’t heard any of the folks pointing guns at her (no, not her, the robot) approaching. There were three of them, a decent looking synth and two Rusters (no hand tremors!). No, wait, one of the Rusters was an Alpiner with the same red skin tone as Rusters. All of them had on regular clothing, not the green and yellow OIA uniforms, so at least they weren’t cops. Even if the Alpiner was trying to pass for less class than they were.

“We need you to back away form the ‘bot now,” the Alpiner said, motioning to the side with their pistol. It was a heavy, chunky looking thing.

“No,” whispered Zhen, dropping the pipe and scooping the robot to her chest. “Please, it’s mine. I killed it, its mine.”

“Kid, it’s dangerous—”

“I’m not going to keep it! I’m not stupid. But those O’Conner X34 antennae go for 15 credits each and the Rise ball is worth 50 credits at least and the carbon is—”

“Kid knows their machines,” the synth murmured to the Alpiner. 

The Alpiner looked her over, a quick up and down; Zhen’s chest tightened. The Ruster and and the synth stilled while the Alpiner’s eyes focused past Zhen, over her shoulder. They had to be talking to each other through the mesh; Zhen started backing up. There was an alley 10 meters south she might be able to duck into if she ran fast enough. Zhen froze as the Alpiner looked at her again.

“Tell you what kid, we’ll buy the robot off you. 250 credits for the whole thing right now and we’ll spot you lunch at the noodle place two blocks over.”

“Three Monkeys’? The uplift bar?”

“Yeah, that one. We hunt ferals, right? Three of us, we’re good with the hunting, not so much with the disassembling and the markets around here. We’ll buy your robot, spot you lunch, and leave you our address — you talk it over with your parents–"

Zhen couldn't keep her hand from spasming against the feral. She wanted Mamma June and Poppy back so bad.

The Alpiner definitely noticed her traitorous hand "–check the rumor mills about us, yeah? When you’re sure we ain’t dangerous to kids, you drop by, take apart ferals we catch, talk us through selling the parts on the black market, and you get a fourth, plus all the snacks you can coax our POS faber into printing for you. Okay?”

Zhen’s stomach growled; the Ruster smirked a little and held out a cred stick. Zhen snatched the stick and slowly handed the robot, dangling from her hand by a leg. 

“Three Monkeys’ now?” Zhen mumbled.

“Yeah, sure, kid.”

Preparing to GM

I'm running a game for Technical Difficulties next Saturday and three games at GenCon in mid-August. So this seems as good a time as any to talk about what I do to prepare to GM a game.

There's only a few systems I'm comfortable enough with to GM, but I don't regularly GM. So I don't have all the rules memorized at any one time and like to review some areas I know I'm weak in before GMing. Right now, I'm comfortable with A Dirty World (next Saturday), first edition Eclipse Phase (GenCon), and Red Markets (intermittently). I have the basic mechanics and expected genre/setting/mood of all three down (which is more or less my baseline for saying I'm comfortable with a system) but before a game, I like to review:

  • the combat system in A Dirty World, both physical and social;
  • hacking in Eclipse Phase;
  • negotiations in Red Markets.

I think with time I'll move on to a more complex part of A Dirty World than combat. Not that there's a lot more to the system — I like A Dirty World, but it designed to do one thing (noir) and one thing only. So, not the most complex of systems. Hacking in Eclipse Phase and Negotiations in Red Markets are probably going to be the go-to review sections for a while though. Hacking because it's both complex and not used frequently in games I run. Negotiations because it's just different than other systems I know and the most complex part of Red Markets, period.

In addition to reviewing the system is the prep I do for the adventure. I typically run pre-written one-shots, so I'll have to write a new post exploring how this changes if/when I run a campaign (I have an idea...) But any rate, for one-shots, I like to review the pre-generated characters, read the adventure thoroughly, let it sit for an hour or a day, and then read it over again, thinking about how my players are going to something completely bonkers.

And then the day of, I'll have the rules books to hand, ready to go aaaaaaand everything flies out of my head. So I improvise the whole thing anyway.

But the prep work means the improvising happens faster (no 5 minutes of dead air and players twiddling their thumbs) and more coherent, because I know (theoretically) where I'd like everyone to go.

Not that they go there. Player Characters == Cats. First rule of tabletop rpgs, that is.

Multitasking


“211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, fingers poised over her keyboard. She nodded at Alexi walking towards her with a file folder. Downside to her documented hyper-multitasking, her boss felt no compunction against talking with her during a call.

“Daveed Wilkinson,” a calm, baritone informed her. “Union Station Hotel, 1820 Market Street,—”

Alexi was at her desk now, leaning over to display the contents of the folder in his hands. It was a court summons.

“—St. Louis Missouri, room 312. I need a rapid healer who can handle—”

The summons was for a Montana court, in three weeks, about the psychic gay conversion camp. Darcy grimaced and added it to her mental calendar. She stopped typing with her right hand to grab a pen.

“—steel-strength skin. I've got a teenage suicide attempt in the bathtub in the back of the room."

Darcy had an ambulance already enroute and her left hand flashed across the keyboard to add a local police car to the call.

"Female, sixteen, no known history of suicide attempts or family history of mental illness.”

The local EMTs happened to have a healer on staff (and on shift) that fit the bill, but they were probably going to need the backup to talk the kid into the legally obligated psychiatric hold they had to place her under. Assuming she was conscious.

“And what is your relationship to the victim, Mr. Wilkinson?” Darcy asked, signing the travel request forms Alexi slid over her desk to her.

“Bodyguard and chaperone.”

Darcy hesitated, then added a request for a second car to the call, one with a team experienced in de-escalation or handling celebrities. She didn't know who was in St. Louis this week, but average folks were not under the care of a bodyguard. Especially not when they had steel-strength skin invulnerability.

“Alright Mr. Wilkinson, is there water in the bathtub?” Alexi slid another document over to her. Darcy caught the title and gave Alexi a wounded look. Alexi returned a no-nonsense, 'don't mess with me on this' look.

“No, and I have her hands up over her head. I'm a former EMT by the way, unpowered.”

Darcy sighed at Alexi and signed the request for police protection in Montana. The case was attracting a lot of national attention and anti-Powered whack jobs. Who were slightly confused if they were protesting against psychic manipulation or for religious freedom to run gay conversion “therapy.”

“Gotcha. EMT and police are enroute, about three minutes out.”