Monday, January 26, 2009

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 9

Episode 2.2, "The Ominous Silence" Session 5

On Coruscant and the Core Worlds, it hardly seems like a war is going on. No citizens have been drafted, no cities have suffered invasion or orbital bombardment. The holonews vids bury brief mentions of the war that seems to be going on in another galaxy entirely.
But a handful of people--journalists, politicians, and others--have begun to ask questions. How did the Republic obtain an enormous fleet and millions of clone soldiers almost overnight? What will happen to the Clones when the war is over? Just how many of them are there?
But no answers are forthcoming, and those who ask fall silent or meet with unfortunate accidents, as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine reluctantly accepts the Senate's conferral of more emergency war powers . . .
In the remote Ansion system, however, a small group of Republic operatives know a piece of the puzzle: the Clone troopers are falling at staggering rates, stretched thin on hundreds of planets and desperately in need of bacta, the one healing agent their bodies' immune systems are partially rejecting.
The operatives can find the cure and save thousands of lives; or reveal the secret to the other side and earn millions of credits . . .

Marpa, Tarn, and I-5 return to the barracks and notice that Beta team hasn't returned. I-5 plays a message from Ycram aboard the Skyhook, stating that there has been yet another attack. Shortly after, they're summoned to a special meeting where Bel Sekand makes his first appearance and talks about the competition rules. Sekand tells everyone that Beta team won't be participating in the final competition, and that only two members of Delta squad will compete. Later that evening, I-5 explores whether he can pierce the low-intensity communications jamming field around the site and is chased by a strange, metallic spider-like creature. At midnight, everyone is summoned for departure to the final competition.

[73 AG]

After a long, bumpy ride in a landspeeder, the group arrives at the "Misty Maze" competition site. The contest involves navigating the maze, collecting two pieces of a device, assembling the pieces, and using them to access the final prize platform. Tarn, Marpa, and I-5 encounter a variety of obstacles in the maze, including B-2 battle droids, Nexu, and an ambush by the last member of Delta team. Eventually the group emerges victorious and claims their prizes: 250,000 credits and Arresta.

The foursome are returned to Cuipernam and then make their way back to the safehouse, where Trips is waiting for them. Unbeknownst to everyone, a dermal tracking device had been attached to Arresta, and Bel Sekand was happy to share the signal with the disgruntled competitors. Surrounded by the remnants of Delta and Beta, a firefight ensues inside and around the safehouse. Trips purges the computer banks of all data and sets charges for the safehouse to implode and then makes his escape. I-5 soon follows and returns to the Skyhook. With the help of blasters, stun grenades, and a high-speed landspeeder collision involving Tarn, all but one of the attackers is captured or killed.

The group then rendezvouses with Trips aboard the Broken Diamond, a heavily armed and modified Republic gunboat. They decide to fly to the Skyhook’s anchor facility to interrogate a captured terrorist. There they met Jandssen, the one-eyed chief of the facility and proceed to interrogate the prisoner. With the help of Jedi mind tricks, they learn that the prisoner was actually Deuce, a Clone Commando charged with infiltrating the raiders. He gives them coordinates and the cryptic message “they’re not what they pretend to be” before falling unconscious. The group leaves Deuce at the anchor facility and fly to a forested area a few kilometers from the coordinates so that a reconnaissance can be conducted on foot.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Buffy Novel (Part II)

In a previous post, I wrote about how I finished writing a Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel, only to discover that it needed to be twice as long as it was in order to meet the submission guidelines. Now, the rational thing would have been to leave well enough alone, but I hit upon the crazy idea of expanding the novel by having two linked storylines (one set with the characters as of Season 2, one set with the characters as of Season 7) told through alternating chapters. There's certainly been far more complex structures for novels, and I think it allowed me to draw some nice contrasts between how characters had changed over time, but for a Buffy novel it probably made for a pretty confusing story. Anyway, after writing the second dozen chapters, I finally had a complete novel. Finishing it was more of a relief than a joy--I frankly found the writing more of a chore than a pleasure. Still, as naive of the publishing world as I was, I sent it off to several agents (form letters) and then off to Simon & Schuster (no response).

What took me a long time to discover is that, even if the novel were any good, publishers of media tie-in novels (anything from Star Wars to Alias to Buffy) simply aren't going to take any chances on new authors. Media tie-in novels are almost exclusively written by authors who have already established themselves by writing and (having published) novels with their own original characters. The second thing which I probably should have pieced together is that by the time I finished my novel, Buffy as a pop culture phenomena had declined far below its circa Season 2-3 peak. Buffy novels were being published more and more rarely, and I chose a pretty bad time to jump on the band-wagon (of course, now would probably be the worst time, as I'm not even sure if the novel line is still active at all).

The story has a happy ending, however. During all those Sunday afternoons I was writing my novel, my then-sig other decided he might as well start writing a novel he had been thinking about since he was twelve years old. Although I found writing a grind, he loved the process and crafted a great indigenous fantasy story that ended up being published as the The Way of Thorn and Thunder trilogy.

Although Hell Frozen Over will never be published, I feel a sense of accomplishment in having finished the damn thing and I'm looking forward to re-reading it someday, after many years have passed, to see just what the hell I was thinking . . .

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Free Exercise and the Nebraska Constitution

Thanks to Howard Friedman's excellent Religion Clause blog, I've learned that the Nebraska Supreme Court has finally resolved the legal question I discussed at length in my first major law review article (The Religion Provisions of the Nebraska Constitution: An Analysis and Litigation History) by ruling that the religious free exercise guarantee in the Nebraska Constitution should be interpreted identically with the Federal Constitution's Free Exercise Clause. It's not surprising, given that in previous cases the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that other guarantees in the state constitution were identical to that in the Federal Constitution, but it's a disappointing decision to advocates of strong religious freedom because the Federal guarantee is much weaker than the guarantee contained in many other state constitutions.


Monday, January 19, 2009

West Coast Avengers

One of my favorite series as a kid was the West Coast Avengers, which ran for a little over eight years in the late 80s and early 90s. The concept behind the series, as you might gather from the title, is that the Avengers decide to expand and set up a branch in California. The big idea is looking at how a more relaxed, easy-going, west coast branch would differ from the traditional east coast, business-like Avengers. Several of the West Coast members fit well into this idea: Wonder Man, Tigra, Hawkeye, etc. The first couple of years of the series, written by Steve Englehart, execute the concept well, with the highlight being a long story-arc in which Hawkeye's wife (Mockingbird) is drugged and raped by a super-villain. When that villain is about to fall from the side of a cliff, Mockingbird refuses to save his life, thus setting off a schism in the group between those who believe in the Avengers' traditional stand against killing and a group who rally around Mockingbird. Another great story-line revolves around Hank Pym and his continuing depression and near suicide. Around the middle of the series, John Byrne picks up the reins and focuses more on new additions to the team like the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, and the (original) Human Torch. The stories are more traditional super-hero fare and lose the distinctive flavor of exploring how super-heroes on the West Coast might act. Not a lot stands out in my mind after Byrne leaves, though the addition of the ultra-conservative and right-wing U.S. Agent to the team added some nice character conflict in later issues. The series was cancelled at the strange number of 102 issues, ending in a story-line where Mockingbird apparently dies (just last year, she was resurrected in the whole Secret Invasion thing) and the East Coast Avengers cancel the West Coast charter. Marvel had set things up so that most of the West Coast Avengers team members would transition into a new super-hero book, Force Works, but that series sold poorly and was cancelled a couple of years later. There's never been a dedicated expansion of the Avengers since, unless one counts the recent rival teams (one pro-registration, one anti-registration), each of which considers it the true inheritor of the Avengers legacy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 8

This was the one-shot session directed by my sig-other, with me playing I-5. The the competition to rescue Arresta was a nice, light break from the regular campaign and we the players had a lot of fun being mean and sneaky to the NPC racers.

Episode 2.2 "The Ominous Silence" Session 4

The remote Ansion system seems to be a safe harbor from the Clone Wars that rage all around it. But these appearances are deceiving. Shadowy attackers continue to harass the Xoorzi Skyhook, the brooding presence of the Anomaly weighs heavily in the minds of those few who are aware of its presence, and Princess Arresta D'avilos has been abducted and offered as a reward in a sadistic competition.

With time running out, a desperate bid is made to rescue Arresta and solve the mysteries of the Ansion system before it's too late . . .

[70 AG] After a night in the safehouse, Tarn wakes and has Marpa explain the situation. Marpa activates I-5, and the three of them go to meet a contact named Proctor Gamble, an administrator friendly to the Republic. Gamble says that a local crimelord named Bel Sekand is the host of the "competition" for Arresta, and tells them to meet a man named Simon at the Hungry Farmer cantina. Simon says that the three can enter the competition as a team if they can come up with a 2,000 credit entrance fee. Marpa sells a blaster rife from the safehouse to cover the cost of the entrance fee.

[71 AG]

The trio is taken by a covered speeder to where the competition is held. The first contest, involving climbing to the top of the wall while being shot at, is won when Tarn scampers to the top. That night, I-5 plays some dirty tricks on the other teams and then searches the computer networks for information on Arresta--she won't be around until round 3. Marpa tries to bribe one of the opposing teams.

[72 AG]

The second contest involves a landspeeder race with extra points for shooting flags. I-5 and Tarn jump onto the speeders of the opposing teams, crashing one and running the other out of the course. Marpa easily drives to victory, giving the group a huge lead going into the third round.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Slings & Arrows Comic Guide

Even in the age of the Internet, the best resource I've ever found for information on comics is the Slings & Arrows Comic Guide. Originally published in 1997, a second edition came out in 2003. The great thing about the guide is that it's not a price guide like Overstreet; it's a compendium of reviews of pretty much every comic, mainstream and independent, published in the last several decades. Some of the reviews are quite thorough, spanning several pages, while others are just a few words like this description of Image's 1993 miniseries, The Pact: "Mindless violence between preposterously proportioned individuals." The guide has even expanded my language skills by introducing me to great British slang like "Kack" and "Bog Standard". If they come out with a third edition, I'll definitely grab it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Amazing Race Fix

There are two things I find mildly annoying about one of my favorite shows, The Amazing Race.

First, the amount of time some episodes spend showing what happens in the airport as teams are trying to book tickets. The ability to find the best possible flight, although occasionally useful, is simply not that exciting to watch and, in the vast majority of cases, all teams will be on either the same flight or flights that land close together--which ties into the next problem.

Second, the problem of "bunching", where the the Amazing Producers arrange things so that all teams, no matter how ahead or behind they are, will be bunched together either through the requirement to fly somewhere when very few flights are available, or the requirement to go someplace to get a clue when that place doesn't open for several hours. Either way, the result is that all the teams end up sitting around and any lead gained from past success is lost. In other words, it makes the viewer feel that what went on earlier was a waste of time since it didn't impact the race.

Now, we can understand the producers' reason for bunching: the show has to (1) providing transportation, security, medical, and other production assistance to teams spread out through several countries would be an expensive logistical undertaking; and (2) show ratings would presumably decline if one team gained what looked like an insurmountable lead--imagine, for example, if during the end of Season One, both the Guidos and the Lawyers had been stuck in Alaska as the Bronx natives landed in New York for the final pit stop. It would have been a very boring finale.

However, this problem is not insoluble. Through the sheer processing power of my magnificient brain, I have come upon a way to resolve the airport and bunching dilemmas. The key is to always reward teams for doing well, while at the same time making sure the race stays competitive. Stay with me now . . .

The last team to arrive at the pit stop is eliminated, as usual. All teams after the first team to arrive receive a sliding scale time penalty: the second team to arrive leaves 5 minutes after the first, the third team leaves 5 minutes after the second, etc. The worst deficit a team could have (coming in tenth in the first leg of the race) would be to leave 45 minutes after the first team. The 5 minute sliding scale is chosen because it provides sufficient incentive for teams to jockey for position while simultaneously ensuring that no team is completely out of contention--after all, the only thing the team in last place needs to do at the beginning of a leg is make up a 5 minute deficit to stay in the race. Over the course of the race, teams might slowly move up or down the scale depending on how well they perform. Finally, all traditional bunching elements would be resolved between episodes--flights would carry all of the teams and only happen between legs of the race (and between episodes), challenges would only take place when sites were open, etc.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Quebec Blasphemy Cases: Translated

In the course of my dissertation research, I've made rough translations (with the help of my able assistant, Kelly McFadden!) of the three Quebec blasphemous libel cases that are in French.

Cinematic Titanic

In an earlier post, I talked about Rifftrax, which is an interesting variation on MST3K-style riffing that uses new and popular movies. The true heir to the MST3K tradition, however, is the Cinematic Titanic series of movies. Led by Joel Hodgson, who is accompanied by the actors behind Crow, T.V's Frank, Pearl, and more, the series follows the classic MST3K tradition of taking an old B-movie apart, piece by piece. I've quite enjoyed the ones I've seen so far and it's nice to be able to watch them anywhere, instead of only on a computer like Rifftrax (assuming you want them automatically synched up with the Rifftrax player). The Cinematic Titanic movies are about twice as expensive, however, and take a while to download--but then again, on a per episode basis, they're still cheaper than buying MST3K boxsets . . .

Monday, January 5, 2009

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 7

This was a little bit of an unusual session in that, with the character of Ycram gone and the person who played Tarn absent for the night, I was down to directing for just two players. On top of it, I had to set things up for my sig-other's one-shot in the next session by having Arresta get kidnapped right at the very beginning. I was a bit nervous about how the session would go, but it turned out to be a lot of fun (like all of the two- or three- player sessions that have occasionally popped up). Now, a major mistake I made was allowing the reward for Arresta's rescue to stand at 250,000 credits--I guess I just didn't really think about how much money that was, but it made for some quite wealthy characters over the next few story arcs. Marpa's stunning the major villain with a single shot is something that still gets talked about a lot at the table--stunning was a lot easier in Revised Core Rulebook than it is in the newer Saga Edition Rules.

Episode 2.2 "The Ominous Silence" Session # 3

To the vast majority of citizens in the remote Ansion system, it seems like the Clone Wars are a distant rumor. There are no legions of battle droids on the ground or Republic fleets circling the stars.

But a rag-tag band of Republic operatives have brought the war with them. As they plummet in blood-soaked escape pods away from the Xoorzi skyhook, a partial success still leaves questions unanswered. Who's behind the raids on the facility? What's blocking transmissions and ships from leaving the system? What happened to the Jedi Knight sent to investigate weeks ago?
Battered and bruised, burned by radiation, they come ever closer to finding the answers.

Tarn, Marpa, and Arresta crash land outside of the capital city of Cuipernam. Tarn is knocked unconscious in the landing, while Marpa and Arresta are attacked by "talent scouts" who kidnap Arresta. Marpa soon encounters Lee, a Jedi Padawan sent to Ansion weeks ago with her Master (Sarigar) and a Clone Commando team to accomplish the same mission. Sarigar disappeared on a trip from Ansion to the Skyhook with one of the Commandos, while two others are in undercover roles. After returning to the safehouse, Marpa begins repairs on I-5 (and switches his allegiance) and then joins Tarn in a private hospital for bacta healing.

[69 AG] Marpa learns that repairs to the third level of the Skyhook are now underway and operations should be restored shortly. He has Delia's Ultimatum land at the city's spaceport and then sets off with Lee to investigate the surprising revelation that four escape pods had left the Skyhook. Using a radiation detector, Marpa and Lee, along with Trips (one of the Clone Commandos) track the escape pod and its inhabitant, the crazed Kaminoan Gemma Vous, to a residential area where she has taken up her experiments. Marpa stuns her and Gemma Vous is turned over to the authorities. Following a lead, Marpa and Lee then raid the kidnapper's warehouse hideout, only to discover that Arresta has already been "transferred" to her new "owner", who has made her the prize (along with 250,000 credits) in a competition.

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