Writing, Time, and Word Count

So uh... This blog has gotten away from me...  Guess I know what my New Year's resolution is now. 

The first draft of the PostHuman Studios contract was due today, but I emailed it in last night. Just wanted to make sure it got to then sitting business hours and I just didn't think I could guarantee that if I was sending it in after my day job. So, the first draft of two thousand words is in. It was, of course, not my literal first draft — I revised and copy-edited it before I emailed it in. But it's the first draft they'll see and the first one I'll get feedback on from the game designers. Which is so cool.

I found I had a hard time getting started because I was finding 2k words intimidating. I don't know why, I've written four times as much as that (once) on a particularly good writing day. Doing it for pay makes a lot of difference to me, apparently.  

What got me going was a) terror of a deadline (what can I say, I do know my own motivators) and b) setting up a Scrivener project. I took the proposal I'd sent, picked the six sections they'd liked best, and copied the pitch text from them into six documents in Scrivener. And then, violá! I didn't have zero words towards the project done, I had about 300 done. Much easier to get started. Plus the mental shift from needing 2k to needing 300–350 six times. 

Outlines and small chunks. It's how I get moving forward.

Make that All Acceptance

Turns out I DID get that writing assignment from PostHuman Studios, they were just slower than they wanted to be getting back to people. Which, you know, happens. I had actually wondered if the guys were Canadian (and I had forgotten that) given that the original timeline had them working to choose writers over Thanksgiving.  

So, lessons learned so far: 

1) Even when there's a theoretical tight deadline for the writing, assume from the start that it'll take longer for assignments to go out than stated. If the folks assigning projects meet their goal, it'll be a nice surprise. 

2) Don't send 'hey guys, if you have time, how could I improve my pitches to you for the future' emails until actual rejection (I'll count hearing through other sources that assignments have gone out as rejections). Or a month. A month seems reasonable.  Just thinking this writing as a business thing through, as best I can.

3) When looking at your schedule and personal capacity to write (and meet stated deadlines) when deciding whether or not to pitch, look at your schedule under the assumption they'll get back to you later than they think they will.

I mean, unless this particular company has a reputation for being very, very good at time management and getting back to their freelancers quickly.  

I'm fine in terms of my own time management and the first & final draft deadlines, but partially that's because I already wasn't traveling for the winter holiday. So, as part of that thinking through writing as a business, I'm just seeing how it could have been a problem. 

Time, as they say, to put my nose to the grindstone and get 2,000 words out. Wish me luck guys!

Making a Pitch

So my favorite RPG system, Eclipse Phase, the one that got me to find my favorite Podcast that prompted me to start writing, got me my first editing job, find my writer circle, and led to this blog (among other things), yeah that RPG? The publishers put out a call for proposals to write for a booklet (on plot hooks) in the upcoming second edition.

I missed the tweet initially, but someone in my writers circle saw it and asked the group if anyone planned to submit a proposal (because we're all capital-N Nerds about RPGs), which got it on my radar. 

Guys, I did it! I sent in my proposal yesterday! I don't talk much about my self-doubts about my writing here because, honestly?, I cope with them by ruthlessly ignoring them, but they do exist. Mostly around trying to get published/paid. If I'm writing something for my own amusement or just to share here on the blog, no shame, no trouble showing other folks. Heck, very little trouble dealing with solicited critique. Haven't gotten any unsolicited critique so far, so we'll see how that goes down, if it ever happens. 

But the second I think to submit something cfor publication/money? Man. AGONIZING over the email submission. Poking Partner to read my email for mistakes/error/social blunders. Staring at the send button. It's no fun.  

But this weekend I came up with 12 plot hooks/ideas for the setting that I'm happy with, distilled them down to one sentence pitches, added a couple opening and closing lines to the email and sent it off. Even got a short 'receipt acknowledged' email back from the developers this morning. (Well it was sent last night after I went to bed, so I saw it this morning.)

I'm just... happy with myself for following through on this and pitching. If (if, if, if) I get this job, it'll be my first writing credit for something I pitched. And that's really exciting.

Wish me luck guys! I'll find out on Thursday. 

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.’

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.”

The Octopus Started It

 “It’s not my fault! The octopus started it.”

I stared at Farad, seated across the virtual table from me in the bare bones simulspace we were situated in, then pinched the bridge of my nose in mental stress. The department ‘space designers knew me pretty well — they'd done me the favor of program in the sensation of pressure on the bridge of my nose. Usually helps relieve the mental stress of talking to the fucking idiots I run into in this job.

“The octopus started it,” I repeated back as flatly as I could.

“Yeah!” Farad’s image in this space was closer to a bare blob than a rendered person. I knew from his pictures that he'd been sleeved in a nondescript Ruster morph which been suffering from a shit-ton of allergies and muscle tremors from missing payments to the Corp that’d originally sold him his body. Dark hair, probably North American phenotype, mixed with some southern African and Southeastern Asian, assuming the Corp had grown one based on his original genetics. Bland facial features and a mouth more accustomed to stress and anger than laughter. At least, before he'd gotten his ass asphyxiated and we'd had to dig out his cortical stack to question him.

The designers hadn't bothered programming enough facial features to render emotion, the cheap-ass department having decided our muses could handle the raw data fast enough for interrogations to continue. Nevermind that an off the shelf simulspace from the Argonaut collectives would have been both free and better. Or that it'd have been cheaper to buy from a micro-corp here on Mars than pay for in-house design. Hence the blob I was talking too. And personal quirks added as favors. At least vocal cues worked.

“So you screaming at her to go back to Ceres with the rest of her ‘hodack, fabber-chow criminal buddies’ and leave Mars to the quote ‘real people’ end quote, before taking a swing, with a knife I might add, at her doesn't count as starting it?”

“Hell nah, octo ain't people, ain't no more starting something than kicking a cat! So when she paying for my new body?”

I scrubbed at my face, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “First off Mr. Farad, if that were true, we still have animal cruelty laws and you'd be on the hook for that. Having started it. Secondly, if she isn't a person, she can't have money, so how the hell would she pay for anything? Third of all,” I said, voice rising to cut off his protests, “whatever your prejudices, she is a citizen of the Titanian Commonwealth, here for trade negotiations, and is considered a person by two different polities, the more relevant one to your situation being the Martian Planetary Consortium. You are under arrest for unprovoked assault on a corporate diplomat, have had nothing to say in your defense, we have three witnesses who meet even your definition of ‘person,’ as well as visual and auditory recordings from two different angles. Your trial will be in 56 hours and only because the courts are a little backed up at this time. My recommendation? Hire a lawyer if you can, take whatever deal they can finagle for you, and you might serve your community service on a decent server in time to start working towards a new body before your kid graduates from high school. You know, instead of being out of circulation on a cold server for five years.”

I logged off before he could start whining about the unfairness of it all. Yeah Mars is unfair, it's run by corps. The uplifts have nothing to do with that. Hell, they get screwed over by the Consortium worse than baseline-humans do, much less folks like Farad. Mars is hell on our poor, I'll grant that, but still, at least he hadn't been stuck as infolife after the Fall. And now he'd gone and thrown that away.

First Gatecrash

The neo-octopus thought of himself in the chromatic language the human scientists had invented for their species when they were uplifted. But this was a Martian corporation, so his file and the stupid name tag (why was a physical name tag necessary?) said ‘Hidden Shoals.’

He was the only non-human in the prep room outside the gateroom. One of the two folks introduced as security for this expedition walked over to him. This one had the morphology of a female and he thought from the name on the tag (‘Khadija’) the mind sleeved in was also female. She nodded at his off-tentacles, the two he wasn't standing on, and said with a hint of a smile, “You probably want to pay attention to what they're saying.”

Hidden Shoals looked down to bring more than his peripheral vision to bear on his limbs. They were running through a complex pattern advertising his jitters, frustration, and fear. A moment of concentration and they blanked out to a neutral gray.

“Thanks,” he said, trusting his vocalizer to elide the embarrassment he felt. “You speak chromatic?”

“About as well as a 6-month transhuman speaks their parents’ language,” she said with a shrug. “I can get emotions, maybe. But Pathfinder can buy the best translation software if they don't feel like hiring the talent.”

“Yeah…”

“Don't worry about it, everyone is nervous their first time through a gate.”

Hidden Shoals just started double-checking all the tools in his belt. When the tone chimed and the door opened, Khadija walked out with him.

Walking towards the launch pad, Hidden Shoals looked over and asked, “Why are you wearing that vac-suit? Survey says it's a breathable atmosphere.”

“Has to do with my first ‘crash. I was going to be working security on a supply run to a research station. Known world, about .8g, blue skies, research station had been there for a couple years already. Didn’t require a vac-suit, just a rebreather to keep the mix right and the massive allergic reactions minimal.”

Khadija seemed to be familiar with neo-octopi vision and not at all bothered he hasn't angled his head that way. A human conversant in other species morphology on Mars. He hasn't expected that.

“So cargo’s all lined up, we’re going to be escorting it in, two to a box. I’m fifth back from the front, paired up with one of the company’s veterans - they’re getting real impatient with my antsiness, I can tell, but still can’t settle the pit in my stomach. Scout bot goes through, sends back the all clear. First pair go through, then the second, and I just figure ‘Fuck it, I’m about to walk through what is at best guess, a fold in the fabric of space and time. I’m wearing the damn helmet.’ So I pop that as the third pair go through and now it’s our turn to start walking up the ramp. Fourth pair in and I get my first look at one of these gates,” she said with a grimace. “Eerie fucking things, this one looked like it had extra angles and more colors than actually exist - so I’m walking through this tear in space and time, damn near freaking out at what hell I’ve gotten myself into, and pop out onto an airless asteroid. Black void above, scattering of stars, and definitely no more than .25g. Partner goes down, choking and clawing at their breather, cargo boxes piling up in front of the gate, six other folks keeled over on the ground. That’s why I always wear a vac-suit.”

Hidden Shoals deeply regretted asking, but continued anyway. “Weren’t there 8 guys ahead of you?”

“Yep, don’t know how, but somewhere between the first and second cargo box, the entire gate reset to a new destination. Never shut down, didn’t look like anything had changed, just a different destination. Astro later figured from my XP we weren’t even in the same arm of the galaxy as where we were supposed to go. Gorgeous place though, in a quiet, desolate sort of way.”

“What the hell you’d do?”

“Turned on the mag-boots, prayed they’d keep me at least semi-anchored, grabbed my partner, and bodily threw them back through the gate. Hoped the corp would take the hint that something was wrong, stop sending folks through, and leave the gate open. Shoved our cargo back through, gave a bit of a push to the other three in the other direction to get to folks, started grabbing ‘em and shoving them back through too.” Khadija looked over at Hidden and grinned. “Wouldn't worry about it, I got fast enough reflexes to throw you back through before too much brain damage.”

“Thanks,” Hidden Shoals said drily.


This was set in the Eclipse Phase universe by Posthuman Studios, available under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. It's a fun tabletop RPG system/universe folks — if you're into RPGs at all, I hope you'll check it out.

Into the Black — Character creation

Partner is going to be running an Eclipse Phase campaign... sometime. I don't think anyone is entirely sure when we're going to get anything on the schedule. But anyways, the campaign is titled Into the Black and I know it's going to start on Extropia. 

Fucking Extropia. I have a fairly visceral reaction to the libertarian paradise of the EP universe. 

Maybe it's the microtorts — nuisance law suits (essentially) for anti-social behavior (like... jaywalking or jostling someone in the market place) put into the system by individuals. Essentially Extropia's method of social shaming/enforcement of baseline societal norms in a society that worships the individual and the only recognized tie between people are contracts. Fucking microtorts.

Maybe it's the "Slavery is legal, as long as they signed the contract." 1) Slavery. 2) I see nothing in the description of Extropia to balance the accumulation of power business will yield, so I don't see how a contract between people in Extropia is between equals. If you don't have the skills to work through the legal precedent of Extropian contract law yourself OR money to hire someone to do it for you, you are going to be screwed over. Extropia, to me, reads as an entire legal and social system that explicitly denies any help for the least among us. And that is what I judge a society on, how it aspires to and how it actually does treat the most vulnerable members of its society. Extropia, is not the habitat for me.

I should probably play an Extropian character one day. It'd be a good exercise in stretching my role-playing abilities.

But this campaign is not that day. I'm going to be playing an Argonaut data analyst — area of specialty to be decided as I build my character over the course of this blog post. I am using the Singularity character generator put out by Post Human Studios for the point build method. Because that's the default and I'm a masochist apparently. 

I always start out with Aptitudes (or the local rpg system equivalent). Laying in the baseline fundamentals of strengths and weaknesses is just how my brain works. In this case, I want to build a character who lives a life of the mind. To that end, I know I want high COG (cognition: problem solving, logical analysis, understanding, memory, and recall) and WIL (will-power: self-control, your ability to command your own destiny). I also want good INT (intuition: skill at following your gut instincts and evaluating on the fly, including physical awareness, cleverness, and cunning) as well as SAV (savy: mental adaptability, social intuition, and proficiency for interacting with others, including social awareness and manipulation). That's going to leave the physical aptitudes (coordination, reflexes, and somatics) hurting, but that's the choice I've already made by choosing a life of the mind.

COG: 25
COO: 10
INT: 15
REF: 15
SAV: 15
SOM: 10
WIL: 20

Then traits, because I like those, they're my thing in RPG systems. Ego traits (things that will follow my character from body to body): Fast Learner, Hyper Linguist, Information Control, Math Whiz. Essentially a nerd who does complex math in her head fast, who learns quickly, and picks up languages rapidly. A nerd who moves through life leaving a light touch on the information networks on purpose. This time I didn't feel like taking any negative Ego traits, partially because at this point I still had what felt like a surfeit of points to spend. 

Add in a couple traits dependent on my morph: Mild allergy (pollen) and Innocuous (looks a lot like everyone else). So unless I'm sneezing walking through a hydroponic garden, you're probably going to loose me in a crowd.

Next, I'm thinking about who she's connected to (and yes, this character defaulted to female):

@-rep (anarachists, Barsoomians, Extropians, scum, Titantians, etc.): 40
c-rep (hypercorps, Jovian Republic, Lunar-Lagrange Alliance, etc.): 20
i-rep (Firewall): 40
r-rep (Research Network Alliance [scientists]): 50

I threw in the c-rep because I figured that while she doesn't like the hypercorps of the old economy, they do have money to throw at basic research, so she's done some work for them. Have to slip into enemy territory to acquire knowledge sometimes.

The skill list is long, so I'm only going to touch on some highlights. Like Partner wincing at my low (30%) skill with kinetic weapons. The highest rated skill I took is in a Profession, namely data analysis, which makes sense since that's how I've been describing her, as a data analyst. After that are a bunch of Academic skills, a few points tossed into an Art: Code skill, and lots of points into Infosec (hacking), Interface (using computers), Research, and Investigation. 

I know things. And if I don't know it, I know how to find it. If I can't find it, I know who to ask.

And I've got the tools to back me up on that.

What I learned GMing at GenCon

Gen Con 2016 was my first time GMing at a convention and I have a few thoughts on it.

First, if anyone likes GMing, likes doing it at conventions, and likes the Eclipse Phase system, I seriously recommend GMing for Posthuman Studios. The number of hours you'd need to GM for your badge to be paid for is reasonable and, if you'd rather GM less, their pay per hour is pretty good. Also, I got to go to a coffee hour with three of the Studio's folks so they could pick their GMs’ brains on what worked and what didn't. Really nice guys. AND you get to see/read some scenarios before they're offered for sale to the public.

Second, apparently stage fright isn't just for public speeches. I had two sessions and was nervous as heck before both. The first makes sense to me. I have yet to find a session prep methodology that gets me to feeling like I know what I'm doing (fellow GMs, please, leave your methods in the comments, I need ideas). I guess I'm developing some improv skills off of it. But I'd have thought after playing in the same scenario last year and running a session once, I wouldn't have those nervous butterflies before the second session this con. Nope. Still just as nervous. Well. After accounting for how tired I was. Last day of the con and all.

I think this partially has to do with not having a great memory for details and Eclipse Phase being a fairly rules crunchy system. Partially to due with being an introvert about to be in charge of herding 5-7 people I’ve never met before. And it being on me to make the game fun for them.

I had two bunches of good folks playing though. Having watched a bit of partner and a friend play in a Pathfinder game, I could have ended up with dudebros or folks who'd want to make me being female a thing. I think Eclipse Phase’s politics, which it proudly wears on its sleeve, are going to filter some of those folks out. But still, having a good group, including folks just cross-playing gender with no comment, was nice.  Although I would have liked to have seen more than one other lady at the table (out of twelve people).

My take away is that while I can GM at conventions, I'd rather play. Especially to check out new systems, see if they're for me. I'm just more comfortable GMing for folks I know or in more narrative systems I know better (*cough*Red Markets*cough*). Spontaneously deciding to run a game of Red Markets worked out better than I had any right to hope – good confluence of having a large block of time available, a channel to announce on to find players, folks who know the system already (despite the purpose of the scenario I ran to playtest introducing new players to the system), having written the scenario in the first place, and only going over the player rules for Red Markers once in beta and three times as an editor.

So yeah. I can GM. I will GM for Technical Difficulties, because equal share of the load and all. But, I would rather play.

Still going to be GMing a session of Eclipse Phase AND Red Markets at WashingCon on September 10th and 11th. As will the partner. 

A very bad first draft

I'm having trouble getting started writing Poor Private Collins and traveled this weekend to Atlanta for partner's birthday (plus lots of family birthdays). So! Here's a first draft of a vignette I wrote in the Eclipse Phase universe, followed by commentary on what's wrong with it. Or at least not right yet.


      "Why are you wearing that vac-suit? It’s a breathable atmosphere.”
      “I ever tell you ‘bout my first crash?”
      “No.”
      “I was going to be working security on a supply run to a research station. Known world, about .8g, blue skies, research station had been there for a couple years already. Didn’t require a vac-suit, just a rebreather to keep the mix right and the massive allergic reactions minimal. So cargo’s all lined up, we’re going to be escorting it in, two to a box. I’m fifth back from the front, paired up with one of the company’s veterans - they’re getting real impatient with my antsiness, I can tell, but still can’t settle the pit in my stomach. Scout bot goes through, sends back the all clear. First pair go through, then the second, and I just figure ‘Fuck it, I’m about to walk through what is at best guess, a fold in the fabric of space and time. I’m wearing the damn helmet.’ So I pop that as the third pair go through and now it’s our turn to start walking up the ramp. Fourth pair in and I get my first look at one of these gates. Eerie fucking things, this one looked like it had extra angles and more colors than actually exist - so I’m walking through this tear in space and time, damn near freaking out at what hell I’ve gotten myself into, and pop out onto an airless asteroid. Black void above, scattering of stars, and definitely no more than a quarter of a g. Partner goes down, choking and clawing at their breather, cargo boxes piling up in front of the gate, six other folks keeled over on the ground. That’s why I always wear a vac-suit.”
      “Weren’t there 8 guys ahead of you?”
      “Yep, don’t know how, but somewhere between the first and second cargo box, the entire gate reset to a new destination. Never shut down, didn’t look like anything had changed, just a different destination. Astro later figured from my XP we weren’t even in the same arm of the galaxy as where we were supposed to go. Gorgeous place though, in a quiet, desolation type way.”
      “Christ. What the hell you’d do?”
      “Turned on the mag-boots, prayed they’d keep me at least semi-anchored, grabbed my partner, and bodily threw them back through the gate. Hoped the corp would take the hint that something was wrong, stop sending folks through, and leave the gate open. Shoved our cargo back through, gave a bit of a push to the other three in the other direction to get to folks, started grabbing ‘em and shoving them back through too. What else was there to do?


Well first off, it's a talking head piece – all dialogue, no description. There's nothing about who's talking, no indication of who they are, what they look like, anything. No sense of place. No sense of science-fiction wonder. The horror I'd like to get in there from the gate and folks walking into an airless void isn't there yet, not without more description. The dialogue still needs tightening too, more conversational/story-telling than big blocks of text.

This is a usual problem of mine. A story idea comes to me as dialogue and I need to build everything around it. In this case, I got the dialogue down so I wouldn't lose it and haven't gotten back to work on the piece. Yet. 

Minimum, I need at least one (probably two+) paragraphs of description before the opening line of dialogue. I need to add in dialogue tags. Description of people shifting and fidgeting as they talk. Heck, I need to figure out who the second talker is. For all I know right now, they could be an AI communicating with my first character (who I do have a clear visual for) via mesh enabled ear piece.

Gaming Miscellania

As I write this, Partner is almost entirely non-communicative because they're reading the latest publication in our favorite role-playing system: X-Risks in the Eclipse Phase universe. Judging by the in-drawn breaths and mutters of 'oh gods...' I'm betting my characters are in for a horrifying, mind-flay of a time in Partner's next EP game. This makes me so happy!

Speaking of things to shred characters' sanity, I had to miss last week's Call of Cthulhu game since I came down sick with a throat bug last week. Medium defined entirely by talking + sore throat => not fun times. So I'll be joining in the scenario halfway through this week. Benefits of being part of a podcast: I'll be able to listen to what happened last week before playing. It'll be a new experience, to hear what the guys sound like to our listeners.

Also, our Red Markets campaign will finish posting in the next couple of weeks (wow, our first campaign posted in full...) so we recently did some scheduling of what'll post next. A couple one-shots to take us through the end of July and then the Monster Hearts game goes up. Scheduling what's next in the queue episode-wise means we also have to think about what goes up on the blog half of the site, and well. Monster Hearts inspired some fiction writing from the players. Does it count as fan fiction if its in a story you're already creating in a different media? (i'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.)

<pause for discussion/argument with Partner over fan fiction and gender politics>
Me: "You said you didn't care which how I referred to you on the blog!"
Partner: "I meant it's your creative endeavor and you should do what you want!"
Me: "I took that to mean you didn't want to be identifiable through the blog! That's why I've been using gender neutral pronouns. What I WANT is to portray you how YOU want to be portrayed!" ::wanders off muttering to self::

::sticks head back in door:: Me: "Which pronouns do you want?!"
Partner: "Male please."
::wanders away again muttering about 'was that so hard?'::

Any rate, I've already post the first piece I did back in April, although I have done a second draft. That one has incorporated the very useful critiques folks on Scribophile did for me, so the version that'll go up on Technical Difficulties should be a bit better. 

One of the other players, Greg, and I got together to collaborate on a piece with both our characters back in April or May. Our characters worked together a lot in the campaign and I ended up with an idea about their shared backstory. But I didn't want to dictate Greg's character to him, not even by writing the story and then asking him to go over it for characterization. So I pitched that I'd write up the intro to a scene, and then we'd hop on Google Documents at the same time – he'd write JJ's reactions to the set up, I'd add Catrin's, and we'd build up a story that way. It was fun, so much so that we got together again this week to write another one – this time from JJ's POV. As methods go, it produces a slightly dialogue heavy first draft, but that's what second drafts are for. :D

Day 2471

Reposting a short story I contributed to the Technical Difficulties podcast's blog. Come check out our actual plays of Red Markets, Call of Cthulhu, and Eclipse Phase – you can hear what I sound like on the internet.


I was shoveling the fourth scoop of irradiated dirt on top of the bundle at the bottom of the shallow grave when Emil stood up and whined. Abandoning the shovel to the dirt pile, I leaned over to give Emil a scratch behind the ears while I pulled the backpack for my plasma cannon back on. Both of us were watching the ridgeline with all senses on high alert. I’ve never been sure if Emil had one of the smart animal enhancements or had just been well trained before he trotted into my life.

I may have been willing to drop the cannon for this little chore outside, but I wasn’t completely suicidal yet; I was still suited up in full combat armor with rail pistol easily to hand. I’d gotten the backpack strapped down, and the tear tracks down my face mostly wiped away before the metal-on-metal thrumming and the screaming reached us.

At my hand-signal Emil raced ahead as I brought up the rear. Some idiot was about to die by the half-broken TITAN war machine trapped on the other side of the ridge.

Emil was racing ahead, paws digging through the softly crunching dirt and was nearly halfway up before I even made it past the rows of stunted food crops laboriously coaxed out of this fucking planet. My breath was already hitching. Bad day to be short on both water and food rations. I gave a mental sigh for the stupidity of wasting one of my last two doses of MRDR on the fractal-bait I just knew I was going to find on the other side. But I pulled an injector and, shooting my wrist out of the armored arm cuff of my suit as much as possible, pressed it against the skin.

I felt a couple blood vessels in my eyes pop. Just in time for the aches and pains that were my constant background noise to recede.  The rest of the world fell a stutter-step behind as the combat drug sped up my nerves. The world always looks slower on MRDR.

Up the hill. Over the edge of the ridge. Past the stunted trees growing metal leaves. Start down the other side of the hill.  I miss my muse, Galahad. And TacNet. Battlefield awareness has never been my strongest suit.

Combat hasn’t altered the landscape this side since I last saw it. Usually I avoid this side. Half-dead war machine and all. Running, then sliding down the hill – the last of the trees and brush died off months back, it’s just loose dirt now. Stunted yellow grass at the bottom of the hill, a flat area I can charge across safely. All the dangers in this bit are on the mesh; I had turned off my inserts years ago. Burned out vehicles up ahead, reminders of the last stand that partially crippled the war machine, left it in a crater it still hasn’t climbed out of. Futile gesture. Found the convoy the folks who did that bit of military heroism must have been buying time for a mile or two up the road. Well, their decapitated skeletons anyway. Head hunters don’t leave skulls behind.

Half-broken TITAN war machine still in its crater, 250 yards ahead. House-sized center mass with its ever shifting color patterns. Seven tentacles sprouting out, constantly furling and unfurling, the edges fluttering off into ragged fractal fronds.

Too far to see individuals.

Shots ringing. At least they’re using the dead vehicles as cover, sounds like. Two assault rifles, probably the same blueprints, same printer they’re so similar. An SMG, the smaller ammo has more of a popping sound. With a whining clatter, three rail-pistols tossing off bursts. Massed fire? Why?

Snap a shot off at one of the telescoping fractal metal arm cocking back, ready to slam down on a burnt out vehicle, while I’m running up. Plasma leaves a burnt ozone stink. Spot Emil barreling sideways into something before the arm comes down. A pause from the weight slamming into ground. Then a human head pops up from where Emil landed, followed by armored arms and an assault rifle that starts walking shots up the machine arm. Other rifle, also a human morph, comes out of cover 20 yards east to join in the shooting, going for center mass at least. Pause for a better placed shot myself, center mass – must have gotten through some of the armor, couple of the tentacles curl further back.

SMG dashes out of cover, charging straight towards the crater. First rifle, the westward one, starts screaming at him to get back, ‘Azar’ is already dead. Emil’s not going to reach the SMG in time. I’m charging forward after him, wondering why the fuck I’m do–

Neo-octopus

There’s a neo-octopus morph behind the husk of a vehicle 15 yards to my northwest now. Space suited octopus as tall as me. Two railguns aimed and ready, third one having a clip slotted in with the fourth of eight arms. Fractal-hells, when did transhumanity start uplifting octopi? Explains the massed fire.

A screech of metal, the ground shaking again, and railguns firing forward push my attention back on task. SMG is almost to the crater, slowing down like he’s going to jump in and slide to the bottom. Emil is barking up a storm, distracting at least one of the tank’s many limbs. I’ve never seen the damn thing grow more limbs, for once when dealing with a TITAN toy, so hail to the poor dead bastards whose vehicles I’m using for cover.

A burst of speed, and I reach the edge of the war machine’s crater just as the SMG does. A kick to the back of his knee forces him down far enough that I can take another shot over his head. Might have singed a bit of hair; idiot isn’t wearing a helmet. I grab at the back of his neck, find the bar for clipping on a rescue line, and yank him up and off his feet, back towards the neo-octopus. Just as the edge of the crater crumbles under my feet.

I’m on my ass, sliding down, firing as often as the plasma cannon can cycle, when I spot what SMG must have been coming in for – fresh corpse. Must be Azar. I let the slide continue until I’m next to Azar, pulling out my knife as I go. Wish I had an axe for this.

Fire the cannon. Flip the corpse. No helmet. Fire. No neck protection either. Line up the knife at the base of the neck. Swift chop. Fire. Knife got stuck halfway through the vertebrae. Leverage knife back and forth until vertebrae crack. Fire. Saw through more muscle and skin. Fire. Grab head by the hair, throw it up and out of the crater. Fire. Push back up to my feet and start walking backwards up the hill. Fire. Never stop firing. A meter or so from the top, turn and scramble out as fast as possible.

Back out, Emil is racing in a straight line towards home, decapitated head dangling from his mouth. Good dog. The neo-octopus isn’t far behind him, fouling the shot SMG man is trying to line up on my dog. Idiot is kneeling, back to the crater, screaming at ‘Akemi’ to get out of the way. He’s so focused, there’s no resistance as I grab the gun out of his hands, booking it past him. Didn’t even have it clipped to his armor or anything. If he doesn’t figure out to start running away at this point, there’s no saving this idiot.

Both assault rifles disengage and fall in behind me as I hightail it away. Three sets of pounding feet, good. Falling behind, less good. But none of us stop running until we’re back past the flat grassy area, past the metal trees, over the ridge, past the open grave I’d been digging, past the garden I’ve coaxed out of the ground, and in front of bunker I call home. Akemi is standing outside the door, rasping noises coming from the suit’s intake valves, looking at Emil. Emil’s sitting right outside the bunker airlock, head still dangling by its hair from his mouth. He stands up, tail wagging furiously, trots over to me, and drops the head at my feet.

Akemi just stands and rasps, staring at me, as I work through the vertebrae. Two up from the cut, I find what I’m looking for – the grape-sized, diamond encased copy of whoever just died in that crater. A cortical stack. Almost certainly uncorrupted by the war machine. I toss the stack to Akemi.

The other three skid to a halt behind me, wheezing. I turn, backing away towards my front door, and look them over. Armor no dirtier than I’d expect from just that fight. No scrapes, dents, or gouges. One of the rifle users pulls their helmet off to suck in air faster. Bright eyed, no hollow circles under their eyes, cheeks full and round. None of this lot have missed a meal, perhaps ever.

Turning back to Akemi, I prepare to say my first words to another person in almost three years.

“Why the fuck would you come back to Earth?”

 

As always, comments, questions, suggestions, and critiques welcomed in the comments section.

Scenario building of the idea of a 'Giftschrank'

A little bit of stream of consciousness scenario planning.

Giftschrank, a poison cabinet. A place to store dangerous materials such that the only folks with access are the ones who will do legit academic research on the materials.

Well, doesn't that just scream set piece for Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, or Eclipse Phase. So now I have something I strongly want to make into a game, but it's a setting piece, not plot. And more than setting, it's really just the name for a setting. But it's a name that suggests the purpose...

Alright, use Eclipse Phase because I know the system and world better (and I rather play Eclipse Phase than Delta Green or CoC, just personal preference). Giftschrank. A collection separated from the rest of the library holdings for safety sake. Into an informational biohazard zone. Well, that fits with some ideas in Eclipse Phase better than Lovecraftian mythos anyway – Lovecraft, you'd have to (somewhat) understand the information for it to drive you mad; Eclipse Phase, your brain can be hacked just by exposure.

Okay, so informational biohazard zone. Well, whatever this is, it'll probably be located on an exoplanet then. For isolation. For safety. For being able to nuke it from orbit quietly if (when) things go wrong.

What is the most dangerous information in the Eclipse Phase universe? Artificial Seed Intelligence code, exsurgent virus/code samples, basilisk hack code, ... lots of options.

So who's running the Giftschrank? If we're on an exoplanet, it has to be a faction with access to a Pandora's Gate, which doesn't really narrow down the options. Could be a hypercorporation who came out through the gate on Mars - they'd be happy to weaponize TITAN tech. Could be a Firewall pragmatist's base, trying to understand what they're up against. Argonauts, they'll try to learn anything. 

And honestly, it's Eclipse Phase. Should you really trust the GM when they tell you who runs the base?

Alright, so I've got some setting, an idea of what's in the base, and possibilities of who's running the base. Now, what's the plot?

Well, obviously someone attacked the base, stole some code, blew it all up, and are now high-tailing it across planet to disappear through the second Pandora Gate on planet. The players should be the on-base security team (who got done blown up) getting an emergency resleeve at the off-site back-up facility. And now we have a capture the flag scenario, with the players needing to engage in asymmetrical warfare against the attackers as everyone moves across the planet. Win condition: the players prevent the attackers from making it off planet with the research and materials from the Giftschrank facility AND the attackers don't have time to integrate any of their brain meats with the stolen code. Aiee. Especially if that stolen code is sections of ASI code. That produces baby TITANS that does. Lose conditions: players are killed. attackers make it off-planet with some to all of the stolen research.

But is this twisty enough for Eclipse Phase? Some of the big ideas in EP are about identity, and reality, and the perils of technology. So to cover that, I should play with hints that you aren't who you think you are (psychosurgery? straight up been lied to? fork-napped?) and/or the attackers aren't who they appear to be...

I think I'll leave it there, just in case I do manage to carve out the time to turn this into a proper scenario (got to build that exoplanet and terrain map) AND folks I play with read this post. No spoilers and all ;)

 

Couple ideas for a title though:
The Flag is an Idea
Poison Closet (real original this one, but I think it'd capture the feel I'd want to start with)