Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 12 [RPG]

[4.6.28 ABY]

Having recovered from their intense grilling, the squadron settled in to a routine of boredom and training waiting for their next assignment. Unexpectedly Lieutenant Tuvalo directs them to C deck to receive a briefing he doesn't appear too comfortable with. Upon arriving they appear to walk into a heated discussion between Major Dei and a senior officer who is introduced as Deputy Director Graydon Thrice, a handsome human male who looks like he can handle his own in a fight but with a distinctly official air. He is accompanied by a Bothan and a Protocol droid who sweep the wing and the room with what members identify as detectors for listening devices.

Unlike their last mission they are greeted with what could almost be considered an overly detailed briefing breaking out an assignment quite unlike what they've experienced to date. Thrice explains that a former Imperial Grand Moff Ardus Kaine was regaining his assets from his time as Grand Moff under the Empire and aligning them under his personal banner as the Pentastar Alignment. During the post collapse confusion many Moffs took their wings and sought refuge with criminal elements or setting themselves up as warlords. One such Moff was Ardus Kaine who escaped with his standard compliment of two Victory Class Star Destroyers and his Imperial Class Star Destroyer and his entire Executive Staff and their related units.

Thrice explained that Imperial Intelligence operates a division that functions under the auspices of reconciliation and reparations from former Imperial overlords but is in fact a covert information gathering force. Gamma Wing has been identified as high power assets that can be utilized to infiltrate a situation in which currently no New Republic assets are available to attend. Zorba the Hutt was able to convince Rann to join his operation and now that Kaine has "politely" asked Rann to rejoin his forces he has invited Rann and his men to the Winter Palace on Nal Hutta in a final attempt to convince him to stay a part of his organization. A wing in the Winter Palace has been converted by the Imperials as a makeshift headquarters, and Gamma Wing are expected to conduct a "black bag" operation (break and enter) with minimal violence to retrieve (but not destroy as that would tip the hand of Imperials) all information possible and exit.

Closing out the briefing, Major Dei appears unsettled but wishes them luck and that the Force be with them before the doors close on the briefing. Irys Bey'lar, the female Bothan aide to Thrice, explains that they are to submit their requisition requests which will be dispensed at 0400 hours prior to departure.

Making preparations each crew member go about their activities with Tazo-Rhi seeking out one of the more colouful Mynock team members. A former smuggler who decided he had enough of the criminal life and joined Mynock to put his pilot skills to good use. This smuggler instructed Tazo-Rhi on how to play the part of a smuggler, mainly by indicating that she needed to loosen up. Tazo-Rhi set immediately to studying how best to play at being relaxed. Kero checked in on their stricken colleagues paying particular attention to Stavros. Keth readied fall back gear for the mission, and they all hit the sack early for their early morning roll call.

[4.6.29 ABY]

Meeting the Bothan aide Irys Bey'lar, she reiterates they will be taking a tramp shuttle which will make rendezvous with the New Republic mole Zutton Mygraph, a Snivian "smuggler" who is in fact deep cover for NRIS and will be their handler and assist them on this mission and will provide them with cover identities and documentation.

Given a sign/countersign phrase they are dispatched in a tramp shuttle piloted by Warik who will remain with the craft to ensure it remains safe and maintain their cover as spice runners returning from a particularly good run being rewarded by their boss.

Stowing their gear they settle in. Tazo-Rhi tries (awkwardly) to impress her commanding officer with her assumption of a "smuggler" role. Kero quickly adjusts the tactic explaining that she should play to her talents. Meanwhile Keth explored the tramp shuttle and found several smuggler's compartments. All were empty save one which was loaded with Death Sticks. Loading his pockets he figured it never hurt to have some extra "Currency" with which to barter dirt side. The initial several hours were fairly uneventful, but a half dozen hyperspace jumps took the wing to the fringe of Hutt space. After a series of very turbulent jumps they were dumped to Normal Space in the middle of a nebula, with ion storms raging around them cutting this pocket off from regular communication. Very dangerous, because if they strayed in to the storms the ship could be torn apart. However, their target was there, a YT 1300 freighter welcoming like a home cooked meal. Unfortunately when communicating with the sign Zutton replies with something other than the countersign. This triggers the crew to prepare for battle. 

Warik pulls alongside the freighter attaching docking clamps, and as the airlock cycles they are greeted with an empty hallway. Quick thinking and quicker wits spot the pending trap. Rolling in the crew make short work of the pirates holding the entrance, killing several of them but taking one prisoner to intimidate him in to disclosing the location of the rest of his crew, his captain and her first mate (as well as intimidating him in to relieving his bowels and bladder). Leaving Warik to bind and lock the pirate in one of the smuggler holes back on the shuttle, they move in to free their contact.

On reaching the stretch of hallway Kero adeptly slices in to the ship's computers and then proceeds scanning the rest of the ship checking for any traps. Girding themselves, the crew begin to move in to the hallway where they see Zutton and try and talk the pirates into handing him over, but this does not go well when suddenly what can only be described as a rat/lizard/man pops out of an air vent and drops a jerry-rigged flashbang in the middle of the room. After a frantic several minutes, the wing pull back with Zutton and Ricca (Zutton's compatriot who apparently keeps him out of trouble). Ricca takes a blaster and zips up into the vents and they launch a coordinated attack to clear the hall and reach the bridge (which lies on the far side of the trapped pirates). Eventually they over-power and take prisoner the pirate crew, but not before making enemies of the pirate captain.

After the confusion dies down Zutton explains the pirates boarded and took his vessel after coming to the aid of their damaged ship. Providing their cover identities for the operation he lets them settle in (but only after snorting in disgust at Kero's outfit, tearing a sleeve and smearing some coolant on it to make it look like something other than a fancy dress party costume).
Director's Commentary (September 17, 2016)

I wasn't actually the director of this session, nor did I write the recap.  The player who normally ran Warik was kind enough to take over as guest director for a short adventure, which gave me a much-needed break at a busy time.  I ran Tazo-Rhi, who was normally an NPC; I liked her character so much and her personality/accent was easy to get a handle on so it made a natural choice. I've always appreciated it when players are willing to fill in to help their director out, as it's good for long-time directors to refresh their batteries (so to speak) by getting a chance to just have fun and relax. I first used the technique in running seasons of Watcher (a Buffy the Vampire Slayer campaign) and it worked perfectly, as, just like the show, every writer/director has a different approach even though playing in the same universe.  The technique can have drawbacks in campaigns that are less episodic, as the "main" director has to be wary of not allowing "guest" directors to introduce elements that can get in the way of the main plot.  But that wasn't a problem here.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Buffy Comic Project: "Viva Las Buffy!, Act 4: The Big Fold"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 54
(Dark Horse, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Fabian Niceza & Scott Lobdell (story), Cliff Richards (pencils), Will Conrad (inks)

Setting:  Between Movie & Season 1

T.V./Movie Character Appearances:  Buffy, Pike, Angel, Giles, Quentin Travers

Major Original Characters:  Mary-Lou Sidle & Marcus Sidle (conjoined twins); Garner Sidle (casino owner); Willem Bryardale (evil Watcher); The Manager (casino operator)

Summary:  On the roof of the Golden Touch casino, Buffy is enraged when she believes that Pike has hurtled to his death.  She attacks the vampires that surround her and kills all of them except the conjoined twins, who flee below.  Buffy reaches the edge of the roof and looks down, relieved but still angry at seeing that Pike has fallen on top of something soft and is perfectly fine.  Meanwhile, trapped in a time-loop, Angel is told by Garner Sidle, the casino owner, that Garner's the subject of a Navajo curse that feeds on souls; and everyone will remain there unless Angel turns him into a soulless vampire!  At first, Angel refuses since he has stopped turning humans since he regained a soul; but at last, knowing it's the only way he'll see Buffy again, he complies.  Over in London, evil Watcher Bryardale wreaks havoc on the headquarters of the Watcher's Council until Rupert utters a black magic incantation to defeat him.  Quentin Travers says that Rupert will have to atone for his wrong in a place called the Black Shed.  Back at the Golden Touch, Buffy grabs a priest from a nearby chapel, takes him to the roof of the casino, has him bless the water in the large holding tank, and then turns on the sprinklers, spraying the interior of the casino with holy water!  All the vampires inside are dusted, as is Marcus Sidle.  Freed from her conjoined twin, Mary-Lou is ecstatic.  Angel and Garner Sidle (now a vampire) escape the time-loop, and Garner attacks The Manager as Angel manages to barely escape the holy water downpour.  When all the drama is over, Pike and Buffy have a heart-to-heart.  He explains that Buffy can't have friends if she's going to be the Slayer, because it leaves her vulnerable.  He says goodbye and drives off on his motorcycle.


Great artwork again: the flow of the story is easy to follow, the action scenes are exciting, the colours really pop, and the characters are easily recognizable.  The idea of Buffy having an entire tank of water blessed and then spraying holy water through the casino's sprinkler system was ridiculous but inspired; I've seen vampires destroyed in a lot of ways over the years, and that was a first!  The storyline with Giles was pretty strong, and I'm dreadfully curious to find out about the "Black Shed."  On the other hand, the Angel storyline was a bit "meh," and most importantly I just don't think I buy Pike's characterisation.  I know they have to come up with a reason for him to leave at some point, but the whole thing makes him into a bit of a wiener and I'm not sure how it fits into the show's through-line that the reason Buffy is a Slayer unlike any other is because she has friends.


* The first several times I saw the artwork cover I assumed that was Buffy and Faith fighting a vampire, until I realized it was the conjoined-twins.  In the interior artwork, Mary-Lou Sidle looks nothing like she does on the cover.

* Very curious to see what happens in the next issue, one handled by artist Paul Lee solo and featuring Dawn and "Hoopy the Bear"!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 11 [RPG]

[4.6.11 ABY]

While maintaining position outside the asteroid field, Kero begins transmitting a situation report. She's interrupted in the middle of the transmission by the arrival of a New Republic fleet. Mynock Squadron is immediately ordered to slave their ships to that of the fleet, and when this is done, the ships together jump into hyperspace. During the jump, the pilots talk about what they did before joining the military. Waric divulges that he was an Imperial TIE pilot of some renown before learning the hard way that life under the Empire wasn't what the vids claimed it would be. Kero says all she ever wanted to be was a doctor. Keth says his life prior to service was rather mundane. Torga talks a little bit about the great hunt, but it's clear she's not feeling well. Stavros remains quiet the whole time, and when the concerned pilots contact his vessel's R2 unit, they discover he hasn't input any manual controls for some hours.

[4.6.12 ABY]

When the slaved vessels finally emerge from hyperspace, they see a large New Republic medical frigate nearby. They're ordered to land in a cleared hangar bay, where special quarantine measures have been taken. With Stavros still unresponsive, his astromech unit is ordered to land his Y-Wing alongside the others. When everyone exits their cockpits, they realize Stavros is unconscious and suffering from the delayed effects of the injuries he suffered at the hands of the NIF pirates aboard their freighter. Before exiting the hangar, each pilot is required to pass through a full body digital tomography scan to search for the presence of the nanovirus. Torga fails the test and is taken away for treatment. Stavros is free of the virus, but is taken to a medical ward for treatment of his wounds. The Nishrian taken into custody as a protective measure also proves to be free of the virus, and arrangements are made to return him home.

The others pass through without incident and are taken to a secure room to write full reports on the mission. Kero writes a particularly persuasive justification for her actions, and then makes small talk with Waric. She asks him about his prosthetic parts, noting that she's taken up studying cybernetic surgery in her spare time. Waric says the prosthetics were implanted by a trauma team, using a droid's neural net, after an explosion.

A few hours later, Lt. Tuvolo appears. He says that the pilots made the most out of a bad situation, as no one expected them to be pressed into a full field operation on their own. He says that Torga has been put into cryosleep for the time being, as the rapidly advancing disease cannot be halted by any known means and only cold seems to slow the nanovirus from spreading. Waric tells Tuvolo about the "Second Empire Protocol" uttered by the Nanoformed, and Tuvolo says he hopes that the encrypted files found on the freighter can be sliced for more information. He warns the group that, given the serious nature of the nanovirus and the competing orders given, a formal inquiry has been called by the Provisional Council and that the pilots should expect a visit from an investigator shortly.

Soon after Tuvolo leaves, Szo-Dano arrives to greet her squad mates. Waric speculates that the Second Empire Protocol may be a way for Imperial remnants to mobilize a massive army by infecting a population and transforming them into super-soldiers. Kero does some research and realizes that a prominent scientist of nanobiotics named Jindd Rheim was kidnapped last year on Ithor by a crack Imperial commando team. She suspects Rheim may have been forced to put the finishing touches on the nanovirus, but his present whereabouts are unknown. The pilots share this information with Tuvolo, who promises to look into it.

[4.6.13 ABY]

The next day, Waric, Keth, and Kero are summoned to a meeting with the investigator sent by the Provisional Council. He seems quite skeptical about the pilots' story, and implies that they lacked sound judgment in the making the decisions they did. Kero explains that boarding the research station was justified as an attempt to track down the source of the virus, but they had no choice but to withdraw against a superior force of unknown origin when the Nanoformed appeared. The investigator criticizes Waric for handing an innocent Nishrian a blaster pistol potentially laced with the nanovirus, but Kero defends him, stating that he had no way of knowing the virus might be transmitted that way. Both Keth and Waric are the subject of repeated questioning about the state of their ship, which was heavily damaged in attempts to traverse an asteroid field that seemed to pose no problems for Stavros and Kero. Keth says he was just following orders, and Waric says the ever-changing nature of an asteroid field means that they are unpredictable and always dangerous. The investigator doesn't seem satisfied by the group's responses to the various questions, but eventually dismisses them.

Some hours later, the three pilots are summoned to a ready room near the bow of the ship. When the doors open, they see Tuvolo, Major Dei, and (for the first time) the rest of Mynock Squadron. Those assembled applaud, and Tuvolo explains that apart from some flack for poor care of requisitioned equipment, the inquiry cleared Gamma Flight of any wrongdoing. Holding up a glass of synthale, he toasts the group: "To Gamma Flight: the greenest bunch of nerfherders ever to save the galaxy."
Director's Commentary (September 9, 2016)
The conversation about the beginning about what the PCs did before they joined Mynock Squadron was one of my occasional attempts to get some RP going about a topic that might not naturally arise during an adventure but that helps flesh out the characters.  I usually do this by saying something like "While you're travelling, the conversation turns to [subject]" and having each person go in turn.  Sometimes this works out better than other times, but I still like the idea.
Alas, no Stavros.  His player was a mainstay in my previous Clone Wars campaign so I assumed he would be quite reliable, but he dropped out rather unceremoniously from this one which was disappointing.  I'm not sure if it was the campaign, the growing demands of family life, or the early wake up calls (I ran the game from Australia, online, so it was really late at night for me but really early in the morning for the North American contingent).
There wasn't any combat this session, but I remember being pretty pleased with it as a pure RP epilogue to the group's first "real" mission.  Everyone did a really nice job with their interrogation by the investigator, and the research and speculation about the "Second Empire" was spot on.
This campaign often took a backseat in my mind to the Forgotten Realms campaign that I was running simultaneously, because it was biweekly instead of weekly and online instead of in-person, but looking back on it there's a lot I'm proud of.

Next Recap

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Gamma World: "Menace of the Usqivites"

The third of my "genre switch" adventures finished a couple of weeks ago, and was fantastic fun.  I ran the introductory adventure for WOTC's Gamma World game ("Steading of the Iron King"), but re-skinned it to take place in post-apocalyptic Toowoomba as "Menace of the Usqivites."  At it's core, the adventure is a very basic dungeon crawl, as the PCs are sent to investigate why robots keep attacking a nearby settlement; the answer lays within an ancient robotics factory that has been re-started by a hoop (sentient humanoid rabbit) who calls himself the Iron King.  The PCs for the adventure included a Giant Mindbreaker ("Captain Ultra-Plasma", a self-styled super hero), a Radioactive Telekinetic ("Ray") who was the player's second character after his Seismic Cockroach got killed), and an Electrokinetic Doppelganger.  The game was very light-hearted and intentionally over-the-top, and I felt a great deal of freedom and flexibility in running it because, bottom line, it's Gamma World, a ridiculous premise to begin with.  The PCs were quite creative, which crazy plans like luring a monster into a pile of fetish-clothing (long story) because smashing it with two pick-up trucks, or sending a motorcycle+sidecar loaded with explosives to take out a fortified enemy position.  A couple of PCs died during the four-session adventure, but in hilarious ways, and they emerged triumphant from the big boss battle at the end and thus earned the right to join the safest and most advanced tribe of Gard Encity, the Basers.  I've enjoyed all three of the genre-switch adventures I've run so far (previously a western and a 1930s pulp), but this was the most entertaining by far (copious amounts of rum may have helped).  In fact, it was so good that I'm already planning to run the adventure from the first expansion box next year.  But next up: super-heros using "Silver Age Sentinels."

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA [NORTON]

My most recent completed Norton Critical Edition is The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James Watson.  Watson, along with his partner Francis Crick, discovered the molecular structure of DNA and thus unlocked the mystery of how genetic information is transmitted.  What makes The Double Helix worth reading is that it's far from a dry science text.  It's far more in the vein of a memoir of a uncouth American's time in England, a frantic race to be first and achieve virtual immortality, and how scientific research is far from the cold and dispassionate search for truth that is still commonly held.  There's still plenty of scientific discussion that was way over my head, but it was worth powering through. The Norton Critical Edition includes some interesting essays on the controversy the book created because of the unflattering way Watson portrayed key figures in the story, and also includes contemporary book reviews and other discussions of the legacy of the achievement (though my edition is from 1980).

Friday, August 19, 2016

RealmsToowoomba Recap # 62 [RPG]

[flashback to 5 Flamerule 1372]

Having spent the previous night drinking and celebrating, Markus spends the day recovering.  A small group of his most ardent supporters, young would-be swashbucklers all, pledge their fealty to him and name themselves “Markus’ Marauders.”  Markus isn’t quite sure what to think as the youths take to wearing rapiers and foppish hats with feathers sticking out of the brim.

[flashback to 6 Flamerule 1372]

“Markus’ Marauders” lead the way as a makeshift honor guard for the swordsman down the streets of Silverymoon, and as they near the Academy crowds line the streets to cheer him on.  Inside, the building is full of Silvaeren who have come to watch the brash young upstart challenge the Academy’s deadly and notorious top student, the kenku Villiam Teeal. Even some of the city’s leadership, both noble and martial, have come to observe the match.  The Duelmaster holds up a hand to silence the chattering crowd, and after hearing a formal challenge from Markus and a formal acceptance from Villiam, explains the nature of the duel.  “A true blademaster wields his sword not just to harm his foes, but to protect his allies,” she explains.  Thus, Villiam and Markus are to work together to defeat the combined forces of the other four ranked students of the Academy.  Only then would it be wise to strike one another, she continues, because if either of the two are vanquished before all of the other students, both duelists lose their place in the Academy and are banished until the Duelmaster is satisfied they warrant reentry.

Six fighters take up randomly-assigned positions in the arena: Markus (on the North side), Villiam (on the Side side), McBronzebottom, the Yuan-ti Yazzan, Lady Demuria, and the half-orc Kronk (as El Capitan has quit the Academy and left Silverymoon).  Scattered throughout the arena are a variety of extra weapons, along with a collection of unknown magickal potions in the center.  When the duel begins, it is clear that the four lesser ranked students had settled on a clear strategy: divide and conquer!  Lady Demuria immediately rushes for Villiam and scissor-kicks him, wrapping her powerful thighs around the lightweight kenku, pinning him to the ground!  As she squeezes the life out of him, Yazzan throws daggers at him and McBronzebottom levels his massive bastard sword.  Meanwhile, Kronk heads for the center of the arena to collect potions, and, inexplicably, Markus follows.  Villiam struggles to break free of Lady Demuria’s grip, but every time he does so, seconds later he’s caught again.  It’s clear the Academy’s top student is in peril, but still Markus doesn’t come to his aid.  Seconds later, Villiam lapses into unconscious and the Duelmaster calls the match to a halt, awarding the victory to the lesser ranked students.  Only after, in conversation with the other duelists, does an explanation come for Markus’ odd behavior: he forgot the conditions of the match, and mistakenly thought that if Villiam fell in battle, he (Markus) would win!  McBronzebottom suggests ale as the best means to cure a disappointing end to the young swordsman’s promising quest for the legendary Ninefangs, and Markus agrees.  Although having suffered a defeat, Markus has clearly made a new friend.

[9 Flamerule 1372 continued]

In Thay, the adventurers confront an enraged Felix Ruul.  Upon their passage into the country, their identities were circulated to the various Orders for routine intelligence-gathering and Felix has surmised that their purpose is to find Cain.  Despite the Red Wizard’s bluster and threats, however, the group remains surprisingly calm.  Dolcetto (in Fargrim’s dwarf body) throws the man off-balance by acting quite deranged, while Mellia says that they are present in Thay as lawful supplicants to the Flaming Brazier.  Felix snarls that if the group makes but a single misstep, he will bring the full force of the Order of Evocation down upon them.  And more, he says that the Church of Kossuth has little influence outside Thay, and that he will mark the adventurers for destruction if they somehow extricate Cain from the temple’s punishment chambers.  The wizard then teleports away, clearly frustrated that the adventurers gave him no provocation for violence.  Mellia hastily composes a telepathic warning to Cain, but the cleric’s reply shows little concern: “Ignore that worm, he is meaningless.”

Shortly after the morning meal, an abashed Pirith returns from reporting her progress to the Guild of Foreign Trade.  She apologizes to Dolcetto for being so intrusive about Multivar’s portal, explaining that she had no idea the adventurers were friends of the esteemed envoy from Silverymoon, Mortimont.  She says that the Guild has suggested, and she has agreed, to make recompense to Dolcetto by transferring her own senior household slave to him.  Dolcetto graciously accepts, and even queries if there is a way to speed delivery of the property from Pirith’s residence in western Thay.

Inside the Flaming Brazier, Mellia returns to the fourth terrace. This time, she attempts to start a fire the old-fashioned way, and succeeds admirably.  For the test of purification, she is challenged to pluck a coloured rock from a cauldron of boiling water.  The wizard steels herself against pain and succeeds on her second try.  The fifth terrace is clearly a repository: holy relics of the faith, fire-warded prayer-books, ancient treatises on elemental forces, and more.  The thousands of items are maintained in perfect order and with exteme care, no doubt due to the supervision of this terrace’s lead Tendril, the Indoctrinator.  The priest stands stiffly and, with no facial expressions, poses a series of questions to Mellia about the nature of fire and the tenets of the Flamelord.  Mellia has to think on her feet, but by hewing closely to a single theme (the supremacy of fire), she just manages to satisfactorily answer each question and is allowed to take the test of purification. 

Here, however, she is presented with a test unlike any other she has ever been presented with.  Mellia is led by a pair of warrior-monks up and down labyrinthine corridors until she finds herself in a dimly-lit chamber.  A man is strapped, spread-eagled, to a wooden frame and is clearly terrified.  “The righteous are instructed to punish the wicked,” one of the Disciples of the Salamander explains.  “This malefactor has committed sins against the Lord of Flames.  But his purification will not be complete until he has confessed and rededicated himself.  You must aid him on this journey.” The warrior-monk then motions to a nearby table full of torture implements, including brands and jagged cutting tools, before he and his companion exit and leave Mellia alone with the prisoner, charged with discovering the nature of his misdeeds.

Mellia first tries to talk the man into confessing.  When she has little success, she weaves a divination to detect his thoughts and asks him several leading questions.  She discovers the man thinking about the Candlekeeper (the Tendril of the first terrace) being the one behind certain thefts, but it’s not clear whether this is the truth, a distraction, or simply a lie the man is preparing.  Mellia casts another divination to peer into the Candlekeeper’s office, but she is unable to find anything incriminating.  Unwilling to actually torture the man, Mellia exits the chamber and reports her best guess to the warrior-monks.  They abruptly announce that she has failed the test of purification and can advance no further this day.

When she returns to the inn, Mellia tells Dolcetto and Fargrim (in each other’s bodies) that her progress has once again slowed.  The idea is floated that if Multivar’s portal returns everyone to Silverymoon before Mellia reaches Cain, she could perhaps re-enter the portal to Laothkund and then teleport directly to Bezantur.  Mellia decides to ask Pirith to escort her, Fargrim, and Dolcetto to the Guild of Foreign Trade to find Mortimont, in the hopes that the strange little bug-eyed fellow will help her gain official permission for such a return visit should it be necessary.  The three adventurers find Mortimont ensconced in a fine guesthouse maintained by the Guild.  Flanked by his golems, Mortimont is wearing a white apron and baking some delicious-smelling pastries.  He expresses his joy in seeing the trio, and quickly agrees to write a letter to the authorities supporting their request for permission for a return visit.  He continues to maintain that his purpose in coming to Thay is to find a new market for his baked goods.  He also indicates that he has offered to take a representative of the Guild back with him to Silverymoon when Multivar’s portal draws everyone back.  The three adventurers depart with the uneasy feeling they always have when having spent time with the odd little man.

Back at the inn, Dolcetto shares with Ralkin and Myst (in each other’s bodies) her concerns about Mortimont bringing agents of Thay back with them to Silverymoon.  She says it complicates the situation and indicates that perhaps the group should prepare steps to counter it, but Ralkin’s response is swift and blunt: who cares?  If the authorities back in Silverymoon are concerned by sudden visitors from Thay, it’s their problem, not the group’s.

The rest of the night passes uneventfully for the adventurers.

[10 Flamerule 1372]

In the morning, Dolcetto asks Syd whether he has any spells that can protect him against fire.  It soon becomes clear that Dolcetto is considering trying to climb up to the top of the Flaming Brazier using the outside steps and passing directly through the curtain of flame that bars entry to the seventh terrace.  Although this has the potential to speed up the process of gaining an audience with the temple’s leader, the Eternal Flame, Mellia is not pleased when she learns of the idea.  She glares at Dolcetto and says she is close to getting Cain out and won’t have anyone putting her entire strategy at risk just because they are getting antsy to leave Thay.  When Mellia heads to the temple, Syd keeps a close eye on Dolcetto to make sure she doesn’t try anything.

Mellia is escorted to the fifth level to take the test of purification and is once again led to a darkened cell.  This time, a young woman in threadbare clothing lays huddled in the corner.  Mellia is told that the woman aspires to join the devotees in the temple, but has been suspected of ulterior motives.  Mellia is to discover whether the woman is sufficiently pure.  When alone with her, Mellia speaks to the woman, who offers her name as Jilliatni.  Jilliatni says that she was a slave who become free when her master died without any heirs, and that she petitioned the Flaming Brazier because it is one of the few institutions in Thay where advancement does not depend on one’s heritage or class.  After getting as much information as she can, Mellia decides she has to ensure Jilliatni is telling the truth; and to do this, she taps into the Weave and channels a wave of flame at her!  Jilliatni cries out in agony as the fire leaves her severely burned and barely alive, but conscious.  Mellia quickly exits the room and confronts the warrior-monks who had escorted her there.  She says that she has done what she can to find out the truth from Jilliatni, and that if she is expected to serve as an executioner, that needs to be made clear to her.  The warrior-monks are satisfied, however, and state that Mellia has passed the test: whether Jilliatni was or was not sincere in her devotion to Kossuth was of no importance; what mattered was that Mellia was willing to embrace the purifying power of flame in order to try to discover the truth. 

Although the diviner is granted permission to ascend to the sixth terrace, she has become a torturer.  A moral barrier has been broken, the implications of which loom large in the future.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Torchwood Archives [Torchwood]

The Torchwood Archives is a fun "in-universe" companion book to the show.  The premise is that it's a compilation of material cobbled together by an author named Warren Martyn who got so close to the truth that his manuscript had to be seized and placed securely in Torchwood's vaults. The book is cleverly done to look like the real thing, complete with faux-coffee stains, "taped-in" photographs, post-it notes, handwritten marginalia, etc.  Functionally, it contains some interesting history of the Torchwood Institute prior to Season One and then serves as a bit of an episode guide for the first two seasons.  Here's what it contains in more depth:

(1)  A fun preface by Ianto explaining how the book came into Torchwood's hands and who Warren Martyn is/was.

(2)  An introductory letter from Warren Martyn to his planned publisher, explaining the basis for his strong belief that Torchwood exists.  The letter references all of the craziness that London has experienced from fifty+ years of Doctor Who to show that, obviously, aliens are among us.

(3)  The Torchwood Charter from 1879 assented to by Queen Victoria.  It establishes Torchwood's primary purpose (protecting England from visitors from other "heavenly bodies") and sets forth the role of the Torchwood Institute (a.k.a., Torchwood One in London), Torchwood Glasgow (Torchwood Two), and Torchwood Three (Cardiff--the one we know!).

(4)  Notes on Torchwood One and Torchwood Two.  Includes a lot of speculation about what happened on Canary Wharf.

(5)  Notes on Torchwood Three.  There's a ton of really interesting little bits and pieces here, including:

--speculation that there are underground tunnels connecting the Torchwood sites;

--mention of an earthquake destroying part of Torchwood Three in 1906;

--a "stolen e-mail" from Tosh to Suzie Costello explain her theories on the rift;

--an e-mail from Suzie wondering why Torchwood didn't intervene in the near-explosion of a nuclear plant in Cardiff (from Doctor Who's "Boom Town" episode);

--speculation about Jack, Suzie, Owen, Tosh, Ianto, and Gwen  (interesting side note:  Jack took over leadership of Torchwood in 2000 after the New Year's Eve massacre; Tosh joined in 2005, Owen in 2006, and Gwen & Ianto joined in 2007;  when did Suzie join and who else, if anyone, was on the team in the years 2000-2004?)

(6)  Episode-by-episode notes.  It's a bit weird to put episode titles in a book that's supposed to be "in-universe", but perhaps we can fan-wank this as the titles given to each incident by Warren Martyn.  There's various in-universe memos, police reports, photos, etc. about each incident. My favorite bits here are memos written by Jack that subtly show his and Ianto's growing involvement and a memo from "1999" by James Lawson to Alex Hopkins on the development of RetCon (James Lawson is Owen's predecessor as team doctor).

The Torchwood Archives is obviously pre-Children of Earth, though it does include some material from audiobooks like Lost Souls.  Overall, I thought it was clever and well-done.  Sadly, Ianto notes in an epilogue that author Warren Martyn is missing, so surely there will never be a sequel . . .