Sunday, February 28, 2010

Torchwood: Captain Jack Harkness (S1, E12)

"He would have been so proud that you took his name, because here you are, saving the world."

Captain Jack Harkness (Season 1, Episode 12)

("Trapped in 1941, Jack and Toshiko meet an American squadron leader by the name of Captain Jack Harkness.")

What I Liked

* Jack and Tosh working together--a rare pairing that worked surprisingly well.

* Bilis Manger--the viewer knows he's shady from the very beginning, but it's not until the end of the episode that you understand he's manipulated the whole thing: first, sending Jack and Tosh back in time, and second, making sure Owen would use the Hub's Rift Manipulator to get them back (and, as we'll find out next ep, free Abaddon).

* The real Captain Jack Harkness. Great actor and a great kiss with "our" Captain Jack.

What I'm Not Sure About

* Captain Jack's statement to Tosh that he's seen a friend undergo torture by creatures and been unable to do anything about it--at first I thought this might be a reference to Gray, but Jack never actually saw this happen (if I correctly remember season two). Is it something that happened during one of the Doctor Who episodes? Or is it a continuity flub/unexplained event?


By: Richard Stokes (Producer), Ashley Way (Director), John Barrowman ("Captain Jack Harkness")

Tone: Entertaining and Interesting

Interesting Bits:

* The shots of the 1940s "soldiers and sweeties" dancing had to be edited considerably because the professional dancers they hired were unrealistically good.

* The scriptwriter's brother is a mathematician and created the formulas that Tosh is trying to transmit, endeavouring to make them as theoretically consonant with time-travel as possible.

Deleted Scenes

* Jack and Tosh first arriving at the 1940s party;

* Jack talking with a soldier about the "real" Captain Jack Harkness;

* Real Captain Harkness talking to our Captain Jack about whether it was a mistake to enlist;

* Tosh getting bandaged by a soldier, who asks her if she'll write to him;

* Tosh confronting Captain Jack on the fact that he can't die.

Torchwood Declassified: "Blast From the Past"

* Talking heads about Captain Jack being enigmatic and lonely;

* Discussion of recreating 1940s glamour;

* Shots of Naoko Mori (Tosh) and an actor playing a soldier learning how to fox-trot

* Discussion of the big kiss scene

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Torchwood Original Television Soundtrack

I just received my copy of the Torchwood Original Television Soundtrack and I think it's quite good. The music has a dark, ominous feel, but with a nice energy that'll make it the perfect background during role-playing games or reading spooky fiction. According to ITunes, it has about an hour and twenty minutes of music. The CD covers seasons one and two (Children of the Earth has its own soundtrack), and the flipbook includes a short note from Executive Producer Julie Gardner and a few standard publicity stills of the Torchwood team. Here's a list of the tracks on the CD:

1. Everything Changes
2. Chase
3. Ghosts
4. Sleepers, Awake!
5. Toshiko & Tommy
6. Into the Hub
7. Mission
8. Gray's Theme
9. Jack's Love Theme
10. Another Day, Another Death
11. Look Right Then Leave
12. Welcome to Planet Earth
13. Plot
14. Out of Time
15. Death of Dr. Owen Harper
16. King of the Weevils
17. Owen Fights Death
18. Woman on the Roof
19. Owen's Theme
20. Pearl & the Ghostmaker
21. Flat Holm Island
22. Boy Called Jonah
23. Toshiko Sato -- Betrayal & Redemption
24. Gwen & Rhys
25. Jack Joins Torchwood
26. Captain Jack's Theme
27. I Believe in Him
28. Memories of Gray
29. Goodbyes
30. Death of Toshiko
31. End Is Where We Start From
32. Torchwood Theme

Friday, February 26, 2010

Nathan Castle, True Crime Writer

My wife and I are regular watchers of the t.v. show Castle. In many ways, it's a standard police procedural, complete with a new victim and a new killer every week. What makes it fun, however, is Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a mystery novelist who accompanies police detective Kate Beckett on all of her investigations. Fillion is always funny and charming, and has great chemistry with the actress playing Beckett. It's very light-hearted entertainment.

So for our back-up characters in the Call of Cthulhu one-shot several months ago, we decided to create versions of Castle and Beckett. Here's my character, Nathan Castle, True Crime Writer:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign Recap Extra: Repercussions

This is the last of the short stories set between Session 33 and Session 34. This one, written by Arresta's player, is an interesting character study of Stefan Cassadine and his reaction to finally being reunited with her after almost two years of searching--and having that reunion take place in the shadow of Arresta's former lover, Jedi Tarn Tamarand. Short pieces like this are a great way to get a sense of what NPCs are thinking, since sometimes their motivations don't always come out in the course of the game.


Space is cold and silent. Even aboard ship, with the steady hum of the engines, there was precious little sound, especially in the dead of night. Reflecting on the quiet, Stefan Cassadine considered the incongruity of that statement. In his line of work, he’d often found the middle of the night to be quite a lively time….but not now.

Sipping the expensive synthale that the Corsair Jocasta had provided, he grimaced slightly at the bitter after-taste. Or, perhaps, the bitterness came from something else. Seated in a comfortable armchair, with a book on his lap, he glanced over at the cabin’s other occupant, his wife, Arresta, fast asleep, her blonde hair spread out across the pillow. She murmured something in her sleep and turned to her side, seeking a more comfortable position, all without waking.

He was profoundly grateful to have his wife back – and to find that precious little time had passed for her. Only his relief that she was safe and that the child was well tempered his carefully controlled rage. She was so beautiful…and still so foolishly stubborn. In other circumstances, he could admire her determination – it was one of the many qualities that had attracted him to her in the first place.

Following their departure from Endregaad, they had argued for hours. Or, rather, he had raged at her and she had listened. He had run so long on the tide of his anger, that it had taken quite some time for him to realize that the conversation was suspiciously one-sided. Normally, Arresta had too much spirit to let him get away with this, no matter that she was to blame – but this time, she had sat, quietly contrite in the face of his tirade.

He’d finally turned to face her, another blistering phrase rolling off of his tongue, when he’d noticed the tears trailing down her cheeks. It had startled him into silence. She wasn’t given to crying. Biting back the things he had been about to say, he’d instead retrieved a handkerchief and sat down beside her. She accepted it gratefully and dabbed her cheeks.

Surprisingly, she’d leaned her head against his shoulder. Instinctively, he’d put his arm around her and she’d whispered quietly. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Then, shoulders shaking, she’d completely broken down, sobbing into his chest. The storm of her weeping had taken time to subside and when it finally did, he’d guided her to bed and let her fall fitfully asleep, holding his hand.

There was no denying it. His wife was an emotional wreck – fragile, devastated….far from the confident creature that had absconded from the Jedi temple, leading her compatriots on a merry chase into what was undeniably a perilous and nearly deadly underground temple. He could only find one reason for that.

Leaving the cabin quietly, so as not to wake Arresta, Stefan slipped outside, placing a finger to his lips to signal Xam to keep silent. Leaving the Aqualish to guard the door, he’d stealthily made his way aft, to where the remaining “passengers” were being housed for this journey.

Approaching the room assigned to the strange furry creature and the two Jedi, he paused, still out of sight. Easing a small devise out of his pocket he flicked it open, revealing an angled mirror which allowed him to glance around corners. A simple, inexpensive tool, it was singularly useful. Now, it showed him that the Knight, Atel, was asleep on a top bunk, but the other fellow, Doxen was seated, partially out of sight and fully awake, rifle resting on his knees. Clever, that fellow.

The reason for that caution was resting, silent and unmoving. The Jedi Padawan Tarn Tamarand, apparently still in his Force trance, unresponsive and unaware of the world around him. By all accounts, this was the state that they’d found him in and nothing any of them could do had succeeded in bringing Tamarand to consciousness. In fact, if Arresta and the others were to be believed, he had never even known that they had come after him. In this instance, Stefan’s instincts said that his wife’s story was truthful.

Now, the impetuous young fool who had cost them all so much, lay like a lump of clay on his bunk, equally unaware of surroundings, allies or foes. Not far away from the Padawan was an air vent that no doubt connected to an adjoining room.

No one in Stefan Cassadine’s line of work went through life without making enemies and he certainly had his fair share. Still, there were few in the galaxy for whom he bore true malice. Stefan had always preferred to operate in the shadows, seeking elegant solutions to his problems, unless an abstract lesson was called for. He had often, when speaking with his colleagues and debating various methods for resolving difficulties, championed the well-planned poisoning or the carefully plotted sniper shot. For Tamarand he would make an exception.

This young Jedi…this boy…had done more damaged to Stefan’s carefully crafted plans by accident than most men could do purposefully. What made it worse, it was increasingly clear that he, Stefan, had woefully underestimated the hold that Tarn had over Arresta. He had presumed her affair with the Jedi to have been a momentary indiscretion, brought about by her loneliness and his own absence. It appeared it may have gone deeper than that…

He had a momentary fantasy of releasing something through that vent, of incapacitating Doxen and Atel and of slipping inside, wrapping his hands around Tamarand’s throat and squeezing…His fingers tightened involuntarily at the thought.

Two things stopped him and sent his silent footsteps back in the direction of his own cabin and his slumbering wife. Slipping into bed beside her, he pulled her to him, possessively. In her sleep, she didn’t protest and he enjoyed the long absent feel of her warm body next to his, of the pleasant, flowery scent of her hair.

Yes, there were reasons to leave Tamarand alive, at least for now. The first was the vision that Arresta claimed to have had while in the temple. Based on what he’d been able to pick up from Arresta herself and from Jocasta, such things were definitely possible and he would risk no hurt to the child. Still, despite the sincerity that shone out of her eyes, he suspected that his wife was lying with every word that tumbled from her pretty mouth….

And that was the second reason that the Padawan would continue to live. He had taken something that didn’t belong to him and a quick death was insufficient punishment for that. Others, simple bounty hunters plying their trade, had died suffering for daring to threaten what belonged to him. What then was due to the man who had done so much more than merely threaten, but had taken what he had no right to touch?

He knew that Arresta feared he would have Tarn killed. She needn’t have worried. He intended to see that Tamarand had the best possible care and if a way could be found to rouse him from his current state, that was all the better.

Arresta murmured again in her sleep and Stefan rocked her gently, soothing her until she drifted off again. Yes, it would be better for everyone if young Tarn woke up. Only then could Stefan look in his eyes and watch for the penitence that was his due. And, in the mean time, he could have the pleasure of devising infinitely enjoyable ways of bringing that penitence about….and with it, his total victory over such an unworthy adversary.

Slowly, Stefan Cassadine joined his wife in slumber and his unconscious mind bore fruit, plans full of torture, destruction and pain. They were plesasant dreams.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Sister Mary Katherine

My wife's character for that aforementioned one-shot was a Catholic nun, which I think is a great character concept for a Call of Cthulhu game. Since that game was set in the modern day and the one-shot (or campaign!) I'm directing is set in 1931, I've even suggested she could play another nun, an ancestor of Sister Katherine. Anyway, without further ado:


Background: An army brat who moved around frequently with her family, she always had trouble fitting in. Part of the reason was that they never settled anywhere for long and part of the reason was that she would occasionally know or see things that she shouldn't. She had difficulty making friends and may have headed down a "troubled" path, but her destiny changed course the day she started a new school--where a kindly nun was her seventh grade teacher. Sister Francine became a mentor to the young girl and convinced her that her "strangeness" was really the voice of God speaking to her and calling her to his service. When she graduated high school she immediately joined the convent and has devoted herself to meditation and study ever since. Her particular passion has always been the long ago histories and records of the early church, documenting the events of the past. It thrills her to occasionally encounter stories of those like herself who were "touched" by something strange. To that end, she occasionally journeys to various parishes throughout North America to study their records and add them to her research.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Roddy McCallister, Itinerate Gravedigger

I'm starting to get some of the early prep done on a depression-era Call of Cthulhu one-shot (or prologue to a campaign, depending on what people want to do once the Clone Wars campaign is over). Several months ago, I played in a modern-day Call of Cthulhu one-shot (using the d20 version) and made up a couple of characters (one to play and one to sub if the first one died). The characters are tougher than normal, as the director wanted a more adventurous, pulp feel.

Roddy McCallister is my version of the classic itinerate gravedigger. Roddy seems creepy to most people--he's gaunt, has greasy hair, and is awkward in social situations. He has a voice a lot like Peter Lorre. But maybe he's just misunderstood?

He also keeps a scrapbook full of polaroids he's taken of people he's buried, crime victims he's come across, etc. But Roddy doesn't talk about that.

In the one-shot, which involved an isolated hotel where the guests started becoming possessed by some malevolent influence, Roddy took out six people with his trademark sharpened shovel (five of them deserved it . . . the sixth? well . . . .).

One odd thing about the Cthulhu RPG is it seems to assume people have a lot more in cash and liquid assets than I think is realistic (at least given what I've read about the low rates of saving and high rates of credit card debt in the U.S. and Canada). So, even with a blue-collar occupation like gravedigging, Roddy somehow has over $ 5,000 in his pocket. I imagine a couple grand of that is invested in a beat-up old pick-up truck he drives from graveyard to graveyard, looking for work. Those reddish-brown stains in the back of the truck? Probably from oil and stuff . . .

Monday, February 22, 2010

Worst Comic Book Subplot Ever

Mary Jane Watson-Parker falls prey to the lure of . . . SMOKING! Not that smoking is good for you, of course, but they ramped up the high melodrama with this subplot for a year and tried to tie it into some half-baked psychological evaluation of Mary Jane as being self-destructive. I think they thought it was the equivalent of the famous "alcoholic Tony Stark" story-line, but trust me--it wasn't.

Torchwood Magazine # 10

Torchwood Magazine makes it into double-digits, and these are the highlights:

* A feature on the (fictional) history of Torchwood, from its creation by Queen Victoria in 1879, through the events told via flashback in Fragments, the recent destruction of Torchwood One (London) in Doctor Who, and to the present day Torchwood Three. It's all information that's been available before, but it's quite helpful to see it arranged chronologically in one place.

* An interview with Sara Lloyd-Gregory, who played the "alien sex fiend" in Day One. I really liked her performance in that episode, but it's a little odd to read an interview with a single-episode guest star a couple of years (at the time the issue was published) after the episode aired--what interesting insight can you really hope to get?

* Part Seven of the interminable Rift War! strip. You've heard me complain about the artwork many times before, but this particular strip's was so bad I had to scan it for the whole world to condemn. The top left panel features "Jack by way of Elephant Man" and "Super Frowny Gwen". The bottom panel features "Lumpy Face Jack", "Eve Myles Horrified At The Caricature Of The Really Quite Small Gap In Her Front Teeth", and "A Character I'm Guessing Is Tosh, But Only Because Of The Familiar Hairstyle."

* A "From Out of the Vaults!" feature on television influences on Torchwood, including familiar stuff like Buffy and the X-Files and some obscure British shows I've never heard of but that sound interesting like Doomwatch and Department S.

* The third and final part of the "Harm's Way" short story, which is a little bit more original than the previous two parts. It turns out that the two giant-alien-bug things have actually been sent through the Rift to fight a grudge match to the death. Pretty well written, with nice moody artwork.

* A rather candid John Barrowman interview, especially his response to the question "What is your most embarassing memory?" The answer: "Crapping my pants on stage while I was dancing. I had diarrhea and it ran down my white trousers until I started kicking it over the front row of the audience. I was in a show called I Hear American Singing its Song and someone put a laxative in my water as a joke. When I was out on stage, I farted and immediately felt the warm sensation going all down my leg and start to seep through. If someone's got it on video, I want to see, because now I think it would be hysterical." Yes, I giggled like a madman while transcribing that quote.
On an unrelated note, one of my dedicated readers has objected to "too much Torchwood" on this blog. All I can say in response are the words of the (literally) immortal Captain Jack Harkness: "The 21st Century is when everything changes, and we've got to be ready."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Torchwood: Into the Silence


Torchwood gets called to the scene when the corpses of prominent singers in town for the Welsh Amateur Operatic Contest start turning up with their throats slit open and their vocal cords removed. It's rare (unprecedented?) for Torchwood to encounter good aliens, and while the alien in Sara Pinborough's Into the Silence isn't evil, per se, it certainly racks up a body count.

Although the plot itself is only middling, there's great characterization of the alien menace and its victims--a gay couple, the parent of an autistic boy, a woman who's had a stroke recently, and more. Torchwood is assisted on this particular case by a newcomer to Cardiff named Tom Cutler, a police detective who had a history with Torchwood London. Cutler has a great backstory and would be fun to see more of, though his getting ret-conned and sent back to London makes that unlikely.

The ending is well-done, as Jack makes a difficult moral decision that foreshadows what we see him capable of doing in Children of Earth. I wouldn't say Into the Silence is a top-tier Torchwood novel, but it's a solid entry in the series.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Torchwood: Combat (S1,E11)

"He did this to himself. He had no fear."

Combat (Season 1, Episode 11)

("Owen is sent undercover to discover why aliens are being kidnapped from the streets of Cardiff.")

What I Liked

* Gwen & Owen's fight, including Owen storming out of the car with the line "Fine, let's not. I was getting bored of your fuck tricks anyways."

* The actor playing the head of the "Weevil Fight Club." He did a great job portraying cocky masculinity fighting for an outlet.

* Jack & Owen's hospital scene near the end--it's clear Owen doesn't really like Jack and vice versa. There's not going to be a happy ending or reconcilliation here.

* Tosh's fake website--it was an impressive display of what she brings to the table, and it was cute to see her so proud of herself.

What I Didn't Like

* The continuing insistance that Gwen is the "soul" of Torchwood because she has a normal life outside of the Hub. It just rings false and forced to me.

* Gwen confessing to Rhys and then ret-conning him so he'll forget it happened--pathetic!

* The episode as a whole--it's okay, but always seemed a little rushed to me (confirmed in the commentary) and I don't think that the weevils are interesting enough to carry the weight they've been given.

What I'm Not Sure About

* When Torchwood first recovered a cellphone from a Weevil Fight Club victim, the Club took precautions like erasing all the numbers so it couldn't be tracked back; why would they then be so sloppy as to later send that same phone a text message with the coordinates of the next Fight Club meeting?


By: Chris Chibnall (co-producer), Burn Gorman ("Owen"), Andy Goddard (director)

Tone: Interesting and Collegial

* This episode originally aired on Christmas day--what an uplifting holiday parable :)

* The real-estate agency is named LynchFrost, a Twin Peaks shout-out.

* Only one mention of the movie Fight Club in the commentary, surprising given how strong of an influence it obviously was.

Deleted Scenes


Torchwood Declassified: "Weevil Fight Club"

* Talking heads: Owen being in a dark place; Owen finding a charismatic leader/friend in the leader of the Fight Club

* A brief feature on the stunt fighting in the bar and in the cage match

* John Barrowman's provocative theory that maybe the weevils are largely docile creatures who fight only when forced to, and that therefore the weevil attack in Episode One is directly traced to the Fight Club which was already in existence at the time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Twitch

Twitch was one of the original NPC members of rival adventuring party The Sun Runners. He only spoke Rodian, disdained weaklings, and was one hell of a pilot. He liked fighting duels (and carried a highly-illegal disruptor to dispose of the evidence), but he failed miserably as a bounty hunter. His adventuring days came to an unfortunate end in the Still in the Holster short story.

Clone Wars Campaign Recap Extra: Purity and Danger

This was a (very) short story written to show what Corinne D'avilos (NPC sister of PC Arresta D'avilos) was doing during the "missing months" when time passed quickly for everyone except the PCs trapped in the strange anomaly-linked temple. I wrote it for a few reasons: a character study of Corinne, an NPC who hadn't appeared in-game for a while; a chance to revisit Mongui, a planet the PCs hadn't been to since the very first story arc; and a way to bring a spotlight back on Purity First and set up the possibility of the PCs returning to take part in a civil war (I hadn't really expected them to bite on that particular adventure hook, but they did in a brutal six-session story arc I'll be posting in the near future).


Had she arrived on time, she would be dead. But Lady Corinne D'avilos, Regent of the city-state of Mongui, fussed over her manicure and was still in the corridor when the massive explosion rocked the massage parlor she had had built in a sublevel of the palace. Flame and debris spiralled outward, knocking her to the floor and singeing her elegant dressing gown. The ringing in her ears from the explosion soon gave way to the ringing of alarm klaxons. In seconds, her personal guard was at her side.

"Lady D'avilos, are you alright?" shouted her most loyal aide, Lieutenant Jaarza, as he rushed to her side. He checked her over for obvious wounds, and, seeing none, cradled her in his arms and rushed her up the stairs. "My Lady, Purity First has betrayed us! Word just came over the com--they've seized the spaceport and are moving infantry toward the palace!"

Corinne could hardly believe her terrible luck. She was the rightful heir to the Regency of Mongui until her father divested her of her legacy just because she fell in love with Miklos, a commoner. Still, she was content to spend her days with her beloved, helping him operate a small scavenger yard on the outskirts of the city until Miklos was suddenly taken away one day and never returned. Not long after, the Separatists began a siege of the city and the Republic sent Clones to defend it. Some sort of coup led by her jealous sister Arresta was turned away by Father, but Arresta and her co-plotters managed to escape. After the Clones destroyed the spaceport in their evacuation, the Separatists found the city to have no strategic value and withdrew also. Father then ruled a city that was a mere shadow of Mongui's former glory--entire blocks were destroyed, there was little in the way of imports, and the wealthy minor nobles had mostly decided to vacation elsewhere until order could be restored.

It was then that Corinne decided to strike. It wasn't hard to assemble a sizable rebel army, given the general discontent among the populace. She even had someone on the inside: Father's Captain of the Guard, Jaarza. When Father's forces were almost defeated and he sent a desperate plea to Arresta for aide, Jaarza managed to be so heavy-handed delivering the message that the cry for help was refused.

Father's execution was regrettable, but necessary.

Bringing in Purity First was also a necessity. At first, the paramilitary organization was a boon to Mongui--their patrols reduced crime, their ships brought food and clothing, their money and engineering expertise rebuilt the spaceport, and more. Former émigrés returned in droves and Corinne was the most popular Regent the city-state had had in decades.

But then things began to unravel. Hurtful gossip spread like wildfire through the citizenry, accusing Corinne of all sorts of untruths. Some citizens began a movement calling for Arresta to be placed on the throne, while others thought House D’avilos should lose the Regency altogether. And then Corinne realized, almost too late, how Purity First had managed to slowly insinuate itself into the ruling apparatus--the Civil Watch began wearing Purity First armbands, the few non-humans in her administration fled or disappeared and were replaced by Purity First members, the major holo-casters were secretly bought and operated by Purity First shell corporations. Corinne had finally been forced to break with Purity and drive them out of the Palace. This assassination attempt was obviously their response.

“Can the Palace Guard hold the line?” she asked, as Jaarza set her down in the small war room.
“My Lady . . .” was all he could utter. She saw in his eyes that the situation was hopeless. Purity First boasted brigades of highly-trained, highly-motivated fanatics wearing strange, blaster-proof armor. The Palace Guard had been decimated by civil war and was armed with second-hand weaponry; and a fair proportion were likely to be sympathetic to Purity First.
“Have my private shuttle prepped for immediate departure and then take twenty of your best men through the escape tunnels.”

“My Lady, you don’t want me to go with you?”

“No, Lieutenant. You’re going to keep the resistance alive until I return.”

Corinne had had her chance to rule Mongui, and she had blown it. But sometimes in life there are second chances, and she intended to have hers.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Torchwood "Ma & Par" Strip (SPOILERLY)

Thanks to HeroPress, I learned about a new one-shot online Torchwood comic strip produced by a UK t.v. station for their "Alien Invasion Week." The four-page strip is titled "Ma and Par" and features Jack, Ianto, and Gwen investigating murders at a golf course. I really like the art work, even though it seemed to rely very heavily on photo-reference (still much better than most of the Torchwood Magazine comic strip art).

It's a very short strip so there's not a lot going on, but basically the Torchwood team realize the menace is (what looks to me to be) a giant spider named a "Bull-Craktor," which lays eggs that have a naturally-adaptive camoflauge--in this particular case, they look like golfballs. The giant spider looked to be right out of D&D, Jack kills it in a pretty cliched way (lures it into water and electrocutes it), and there wasn't anything else to make this strip particularly memorable. But it is free, which I guess counts for something . . .

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Underdark Campaign

The first time I ever seriously took on the role of DM was during my freshman year of college. I had somehow met a few gamers who were in their late 30s, and along with another friend convinced them to let me run my friend's spiffy new Night Below: An Underdark Campaign boxed set, an adventure designed to take several characters from first level to level ten or beyond. In other words, Night Below was a massive undertaking for a novice DM, but something that I have fond memories of running.
I really miss the massive campaign boxed sets that TSR used to put out--they came loaded with all kinds of cool stuff like massive maps, player hand-outs, random chits and tokens, and so forth. Seeing what was in the box was half the fun of buying it, and it led me to pick up the Waterdeep boxed set, Elminster's Ecology (disappointing in comparison), and maybe one or two others.

As you might gather from its name, the campaign is massive in the "vertical" sense of having players go deeper and deeper in the Underdark--it takes up very little space on the "surface", requiring little more than a couple of new villages. I decided to set the game in the Forgotten Realms, within travelling distance to Waterdeep so the PCs could have a large city to resupply in and adventure in if they got tired of being underground all the time. I'm not sure why I chose the Forgotten Realms; I think it might have been because I was minimally familiar with parts of it through the AD&D Goldbox computer games like Pools of Radiance. I liked the setting well enough, especially when I found one of the supplements that detailed all the little cities and keeps on the map--I felt like the adventurers could choose to go pretty much anywhere and I would have something cool to work with when they got there.

[The first scan is the surface map I used; basically, a tracing of that area of the Forgotten Realms on grid paper so I could easily calculate movement, along with locations needed for the campaign: the villages Milborne and Thurmaster, and the Garlstone Mines. Having everything done in my own writing was laborious, but it had the nice unintended side-effect of concealing from the players which locations were "background" and which were part of the campaign.]

Throughout the campaign, I had three core PCs and a handful of characters that came and went. If I remember correctly, the game was designed for something like 6-8 PCs, a number that always seemed ridiculously difficult to assemble on a regular basis. (reading recently, it seems one of the major differences between old school and later players was the expectation of how many PCs would actually participate). Anyway, although there were only three PCs, I made the (perhaps crazy) decision not to scale back the encounter difficulty in any degree. My reasoning was that with fewer PCs, there would be more experience points and magical items per character, and thus they would level up and be more powerful than expected. Crazy or not, it seemed to work well enough for the game.

The three main PCs were:

(1) a barbarian from the Ten Towns in the Frozen North named Yarrrgh; mechanically, he was a standard Fighter, until we got the Complete Fighter's Handbook and had him take the Barbarian kit (which actually made him somewhat weaker, much to the player's dismay). Yarrrgh's player was canny and experienced at dungeon-delving, so he made a good leader.

(2) a Mystic speciality priest of the moon goddess Selune, named (*groan*) Crescentia. When I say "speciality priest" you might think a standard AD&D mace-wielding, chainmail-wearing cleric with a couple of abilities tinkered with; the Mystic class from the back of Faiths & Avatars was a real reimagining of the idea of the Cleric, however. Mystics were more like wise women in The Wheel of Time than battling holy warriors; they specialized in brewing esoteric potions that took days or even weeks to complete, had a more limited spell list, and very little combat ability or options when it came to weapons and armor. The idea of a Mystic class could have been interesting in certain campaigns, where subtlety and diplomacy were at the fore, especially in the hands of an experienced player. However, it was (in retrospect) a terrible idea for the Night Below campaign, especially because the person playing this unusual and complex character was simply one of those people who, no matter how long they've been playing, can't really understand the mechanics of the game in a way sufficient to use their character's tools to the fullest. In practice, this often meant the player of the barbarian (who was the Mystic's husband) telling her what spells to cast, a practice I frowned upon when they were "in-character" but let slide during breaks. Still, we had some good role-playing opportunities when the character would return to Waterdeep, where there was a temple of Mystra. Also, I created a rival NPC party led by a speciality priestess of Shar, the goddess of the night (and Selune's rival in the Forgotten Realms cosmology).

(3) A specialist wizard named Elden who specialized in aggressive combat spells (I think they were called Invokers, IIRC) and who had the Militant kit from the Complete Wizard's Handbook which allowed him to fight with a sword. This was very much a munchkin-style combo, but characters with real firepower (literally, in this case) were needed to get through the numerous monsters in the Underdark. About halfway through the campaign, Elden was killed in combat. The player promptly rolled up a new character named Jacob who was a specialist wizard who specialized in aggressive combat spells and who had the Militant kit). Nowadays, I would put the kibosh on someone making a new character just like their previous one, but the player assured me the new character would have a different personality and I naievely believed him.

The concept of the Night Below campaign, from what I remember, is that the PCs learn of several kidnappings in the area and eventually track the kidnappings to slavers in the Garlstone Mines; the mines, however, lead further and further into the Underdark, through several "communities" of monstrous races, until after having delved several miles, the tunnels reach The Sunless Sea, a massive city populated by gigantic aboleths, which are (in Wikipedia's words) "malevolent, eel-like aberrations with potent psionic abilities". The aboleths have some sort of doomsday plan that threatens the surface world, but that didn't end up being a main aspect of the campaign I ran.

One of the things I realized before I began directing is that the campaign designers seemed to assume that a few kidnapped strangers would be sufficient motivation for the PCs to repeatedly risk life and limb in the Underdark. This seemed a dubious proposition to me (and still does), so I came up with a different adventure hook. The campaign started with all of the PCs groggily waking up in the lair of a mad Island of Doctor Moreau type wizard, who had kidnapped and experimented on the PCs by injecting them with a terrible, but noncontagious, plague. The plague could not be removed by Cure Disease or other mundane means, and for every month that passed, the PCs suffered increasingly stiff mechanical penalties (barely noticeable at first, but growing serious as the months went on in-world). So after escaping the mad wizard's lair (which was a fun way to throw everyone together instead of the standard "you're all in the tavern" starter), the PCs have a reason to stick together: they have to find a cure for the disease they all share. After a couple of levels spent on the surface trying to track down clues, they learned that the only cure is the heart of a Grand Aboleth and thus get directed towards the area where the entrance to the Night Below is located. In a way this was railroading, but in a somewhat more subtle way--I never tried to "keep them on track", I let them fritter away as much time doing side quests and adventures as they wanted; they just realized from time to time that their characters were slowly, but inexorably, growing weaker (the disease advanced at a fixed, calculable rate) and that if they didn't take action they might miss out on the opportunity to cure themselves before they grew too weak to survive the Underdark. Because they were persistent and clever in exploring alternative ways to cure themselves, I let them find temporary means of halting or reversing the progression of the disease, enough to give them hope and an incentive to see things through. I don't know if I would do something so drastic were I running the campaign today, but it was an effective way to keep everyone together and motivated in reaching The Sunless Sea.

[The next scanned image is an example of the calendar I kept to keep track of how many in-game months passed; the PCs (who had given themselves the funny nickname "The Cure") began play on Tarsakh (April) 15th, 1370 and reached the end of the campaign on Nightal (December) 21, 1371--about a year and a half of in-game play]

Preparing for each session was more time-consuming than I expected since I assumed all the work was already done and in the campaign books. But it took a lot of time to translate what was on the page into a fashion where I could really use the information for a session--I filled a couple of thick notebooks with boiled-down room descriptions, key monster stats, logs of magic weapons and who had them, etc. As I still find in my Star Wars campaign, the trick is to accurately predict how far the PCs will get in any given session, and for the Night Below I was usually only a stretch of corridor or two ahead of where the PCs ended up on any particular night.

Mapping was a big part of the adventure, and necessitated an overall "strategic map" of the Underdark [the third scanned image] as well as more detailed individual maps. I only allowed the players to see what they actually explored, so their final map of the The Sunless Sea, for example, only depicts probably 1/7th of the city. The distances are so vast, it took about two weeks in-game to travel all the way from the entrance of the Underdark to its end--still, the PCs made the trip in and out fairly frequently, especially in the beginning. This was also in the days of random encounters (do they still do that with Third & Fourth Edition?), so for each chunk of movement the PCs could end up with additional combats.

I really liked how the campaign set up the ending--it wasn't just the PCs hacking through enough bad guys that they finally reached the Grand Aboleth and a big battle. Instead, the PCs had to bring about the collapse of The Sunless Sea through a variety of means that would result in their accumulating a certain number of points for each action (murdering one of the city's priests, desecrating a shrine, rescuing slaves, etc.); as these points reached certain levels, the city would react in ways only I knew (increasing security, sending out counter-attacks, etc.). This sort of system meant the PCs had to conduct several commando-style raids and strategically plan how they were going to undermine the city--being tough enough to survive a single combat was not enough, nor could the PCs have any hope of slaughtering each of the thousands of aboleths and their kuo-toa minions that resided in the city.

The big climactic battle against the Grand Aboleth was definitely rewarding. The Mystic died relatively quickly, leaving the barbarian--who possessed a powerful magical sword (one of the few things that could harm the monster)--and the militant wizard. After several rounds of terrible, city-shaking combat, the cavern began to collapse and the battle still raged on. Ultimately, Yarrrgh fell in battle, but Jacob picked up the magic blade and, with just a few hit points left, managed to finish off the hideous monster. I didn't have to fudge any dice for such an exciting outcome (I wouldn't have, anyway), and this was one of the things that confirmed my believe that randomness is consonant with exciting storytelling.

Post-Night Below (with the characters having reached around level 13), Jacob ended up working with the Zhentarim (an evil organization of sorcerors in the Realms) and Crescentia was resurrected (though secretly dominated by the evil priestess of Shar). I briefly directed Yarrrgh's solo descent into Undermountain, but that didn't really go anywhere before we moved on to other things. (the Undermountain adventure, which I would like to try again someday, comically began with Yarrrgh naked in a featurless cube-shaped room which contained a secret door that would only appear if the prisoner said something along the lines of "Exit" or "Let me Out"--the character spent 18 in-game days before figuring it out).

As I mentioned at the beginning, I have fond memories of the campaign and it was a good lesson in preparation and book-keeping. If circumstances ever permitted, I'd be very tempted to run another massive boxed campaign (I'm not even sure what's out there--I remember seeing the Rod of Seven Parts long ago) and recreate some of the memories with different characters and different adventures.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Novelization)

I've become a big fan of Karen Traviss' work in the Star Wars Republic Commando novels, so much so that I recently decided to pick up one of her non-Star Wars books. I also recently read her novelization of the The Clone Wars animated movie (the prequel to the current series). What I like most about Traviss is that she draws forth surprising but believable insight into the motivation of characters that other writers make mundane, like Clones, Asajj Ventress, and even Hutts. They become three-dimensional characters when Traviss writes them, and she also delivers an interesting approach to the political machinations of the Clone Wars--she has characters wonder why the Republic is fighting to keep planets from peacefully seceding (a question I've never seen answered), whether it's moral to fight a war using the equivalent of indentured servants (the Clones), and more. She also has a great grasp on military tactics and (fictional) technology that works well for the battlefield-heavy Clone Wars setting. An interesting thing is that she's the only Star Wars writer I've read who seems implicitly hostile to the idea of Jedi, with sympathy for their goals or traditions. Anyway, the novelization is definitely worth reading even if you've already seen the animated movie, as there's a new angle and depth to several of the scenes--it reads like a book meant for adults instead of a cartoon made for kids.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Torchwood Magazine # 9

I'm zeroing in on a complete collection of Torchwood Magazine--a legacy my children and grand-children will surely treasure. But for now, let's focus on some of the interesting things from issue # 9:

* A feature on the making of the first Torchwood radio play, Lost Souls. Between this and last week's episode of Big Bang Theory, I really want to visit CERN.

* A six-page diagram of the Torchwood SUV--a prop I've never found particularly interesting (and, as others have mentioned before me, if you drive around in a massive honking vehicle with "Torchwood" stenciled on the hood, you can't complain if your secret organization is not-so-secret anymore). In related news, John Barrowman is described as a "Petrolhead", which I guess is the British version of "gearhead".

* A "are we running out of things to talk about?" feature on the show's make-up artists--not the really cool alien prosthetic make-up artists, just your ordinary everyday "John Barrowman's forehead is too shiny" type of make-up artist. Perhaps next issue will be a profile on the caterers, with insight on how to keep lasagna warm without drying it out . . .

* Part Six of the Rift War! comic strip--if you've read my descriptions of previous entries, you know how crappy I think this strip is. Part Six is notable only for the appearance of Harriet and Gerald, the circa World War I Torchwood duo from the episode To the Last Man.

* Part Two of Trevor Baxendale's Harm's Way short story. The giant alien insect thing in the Hub gets frozen in a temporary time-stasis trap due to Tosh's quick thinking, but Gwen is badly hurt and Owen and Ianto have stumbled onto another one which is attacking civilians in downtown Cardiff. The third and last part ("The final shocking instalment!") appears in issue # 10.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The MAZE Agency

The MAZE Agency was a comic created in the 1980s by Mike Barr for an independent comic company named Comico. It only lasted for about three years, but it won several awards because it was something quite different than the fantasy/super hero material that dominated (and still dominates) the comic industry. The MAZE Agency is a classic mystery series, featuring a charming and funny boyfriend/girlfriend couple as the detectives: Jennifer Mays, a private eye, and Gabriel Webb, a true crime author (and amateur sleuth). Each issue, the couple tackle a new whodunnit and the key to solving the mystery is always some subtle clue that appeared early in the story (much like Murder, She Wrote). I stumbled across an issue or two when I was a kid and first started collecting comics, and it was something of a revelation to me that comics could tell all kinds of different types of stories.

After the Comico incarnation ended in 1991, the series popped up again for three issues with Caliber Comics in 1996, and then for the third (and so-far last) time with IDW for three issues in 2006. The IDW issues look great, with glossy paper and nice artwork. Issue 1 involves the murder of 60s radicals, issue 2 is about someone trying to knock off beauty pageant contestants, while issue 3 takes place at a Chinese restaurant. There's usually too many new characters and too little exposition to make it realistically possible to figure out the murderer in advance, and there's not much in the way of continuing character development--but then, that's one of the hallmarks of classic detective fiction.

Anyway, they're cheap to buy so try out an issue or two if you're in the mood for something different in the comic book universe.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nphreg & Stantusta

Nphreg and Stantusta were two D&D characters I created as a teenager. Although my best friend and I played in a regular weekly session with a few other people, we sometimes wanted to game one-on-one in between those sessions. Nphreg and Stantusta always appeared together for some reason, either with me running both as PCs simultaneously or as NPCs when I was DMing. Nphreg was a human ranger who I conceived of as a "ladies' man", whilst Stantusta was a lizardman cleric whose claim to fame was that he carried a spetum--yes, one of those obscure pole-arms listed in the book but always ignored in favor of axes and swords.
I honestly can't remember any of their adventures--from their character sheets, it looks like they were part of a mercenary group called the Band of the Red Hand, and (ironically) Stantusta must have had a hand cut off in battle according to an inscription in the "Wounds Suffered" box.


Neutral Good, Human, Level 3 Ranger

Str. 18(24)
Dex. 16
Con. 17
Int. 18
Wis. 13
Cha. 18

Hit Points: 30


Longsword (3/2), +1 att, d. 1d8+3
Shortsword (3/2), +1 att, d. 1d6+3

Experience Points: 7223

Armor Class: 5 (Studded Leather)

Saves: PPD 13, RSW 15, PP 14, BW 16, Sp 16

Weapon Proficiencies: Longsword, Shortsword, Weapon Expertise (longsword), Weapon expertise (short sword)

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Tracking, Bowyer/Fletcher, Running, Endurance, Enamor

Move Silently: 27%
Hide in Shadows: 20%

Wealth: 950 gp

Equipment: long sword, short sword, studded leather armor, longbow, 50 sheaf arrows, rations, 2 extra healing potions, red-raven band, antidote potion, 2 potions of diminution, robe of blending, potion of healing, potion of elasticity, potion of invisibility, potion of water breathing


Lawful Neutral, Lizardman, Cleric Level 4 (worships Semunanya)

Str. 16
Dex. 13
Con. 16
Int. 14
Wis. 16
Cha. 14

Hit Points: 35


Experience Points: 6029

Armor Class: 4 (2 w/ shield)

Saves: PPD 9, RSW 13, PP 12, BW 15, Sp 14

Spells: Cure Light Wounds (x4), Charm Person (x2), Hold Person, Silence 15'

Turn Undead (Level 4)

Weapon Proficiences: Spetum, Mace, Shield, Flail

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Religion, Leatherworking, Fishing, Fire-building, Swimming

Wealth: 735 gp

Equipment: Spetum, Shield, Waterskins, 2 extra-healing potions, red raven, 3 potions of healing, sweet water potion, potion of human control, Kurg's Mace +1, potion of water-breathing

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Torchwood Online Game: Mission # 3

I found the solution to the third mission of the Torchwood online game a difficult one, though it appears obvious in retrospect (as solutions to puzzles often do). This mission begins with Ianto stating that Fischer's son found notes that his father wrote about a conversation he had with a whistleblower inside the New Eden biotechnology company. The goal of the mission is to come up with a reference number. The following documents are provided:

* Fischer's phone notes, which include references to a type of triple-helix alien DNA, a website (, and the cryptic line "FeS2 is password, common name and no spaces."

* A report from the UK Inspectorate of Bio-Technologies, stating that New Eden is working on stem cell research but that it is compliant with all relevant regulations.

* A Cardiff Examiner newspaper clipping headlined "Time Running Out for Man", which is basically an interview with New Eden's John Winters about how, in the future, human evolution will be directed instead of random.

* Fischer's Who's Who bio.

There's also reminders from Ianto and Tosh to check out the website above and listen to this week's Dark Talk (which doesn't contain much of interest--references to seeing faeries and a video about alien DNA supposedly leaked to YouTube).

The New Eden website requires a password to access restricted information. The "FeS2" clue took me the longest time to solve, mostly because I thought the "2" was a lower case "z" (hey, it's Fischer's bad handwriting, not mine!). Once I realized it was FeS2, I was able to learn through the power of Google that FeS(subscript 2) is the chemical formula for pyrite, a.k.a. Fool's Gold. Once you enter "foolsgold" as the password, you gain access to a short video about this new alien DNA and get the reference number which allows you to move on to the next mission: 45638DNA.

The Torchwood online game is pretty fun so far, even if a bit harder than I expected.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Ignatius D'avilos

In the second story arc of the Clone Wars campaign I direct, the PCs fled to the remote planet Ansion, where the NPC uncle of the party's noble ran an orbital skyhook facility. As a model for this NPC, I chose the protagonist of the hilarious novel A Confederacy of Dunces--a book which I maintain is probably the funniest ever written (my wife, however, steadfastly maintains it did not elicit a single laugh from her). The book's main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, is definitely memorable--here's a description swiped from Wikipedia:

Ignatius Jacques Reilly is something of a modern Don Quixote — eccentric, idealistic, and creative, sometimes to the point of delusion. In his foreword to the book, Walker Percy describes Ignatius as a "slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one."

In the campaign, Ignatius J. Reilly becomes Ignatius D'avilos and I made him a bit more likable and sympathetic (and, in retrospect, less interesting). The PCs actually ended up spending very little time on the skyhook, so I didn't get to role-play him much--probably a lost opportunity. Anyway, without further ado are his RCR stats:


Ansion Mining Skyhook Chief

Diplomat 8

Size: M


Spd. 10

Str. -1

Con. -1

Int. +1

Cha. +2

Defense +2

Initiative: + 0

Melee: Unarmed + 3, damage 1d3-1

Fort Save: +1

Ref Save: +2

Will Save: +6

Feats: Dodge, SE: Diplomancy, SE: Bureaucracy, SE: Mining

Bluff +8, Computer Use +7, Diplomacy + 16, Knowledge: Local + 14, Profession: Administration + 11, Sense Motive +11

Vitality: 0

Wounds: 8

Equipment: Datapad, Comlink, General Access Pass, Credit Stick (4,000 cr.)

Ignatius D'avilos is a short, squat man with a full red beard and mostly bald head. He wears expensive, tailored clothing and ostentatious rings. He is kind & generous, occasionally a bit dim. He still has ties to the Commerce Guild.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Demythologizing the Legal History of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the First Amendment

I just came across a really interesting book review published in a 2004 issue of the Quinnipiac Law Review by Allen Rostron titled Demythologizing the Legal History of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the First Amendment. The fact that many of the most important religious liberty decisions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court have involved the Jehovah's Witnesses as a party is well known to scholars of constitutional law. This review, however, criticizes several recent books on the Jehovah's Witnesses' role in constitutional history, arguing that the books are "idealizing and oversimplifing the events underlying the cases and the issues they raise" through "passionately and unequivocally supporting the Witnesses' side of each and every one of the legal battles." The review definitely makes the case that most of these histories are uncritical, but (perhaps due to space limitations) doesn't satisfactorily present an alternate revisionist account. Still, an interesting thesis that I'd like to see explored further.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign Recap Extra: Last Voyage of the Sun Runner

This is probably my favorite short story I've written so far for the Clone Wars campaign. Set during the period when the PCs were in the Waiting Place for almost two years, this story explains how the original Sun Runner was destroyed, how Stefan Cassadine and Jocasta agreed to work together, and why Kylo-Vas is no long a member of the crew. It also helps flesh out the personalities of the crew of the ship, which is something that's not always easy to do in the actual sessions because there's so many PCs and NPCs all vying for attention.

The main impetus for the story is that the Oracle had shown Marpa/Daal images of himself piloting the Sun Runner as it fled the destruction of Duros and I needed to resolve that plot point (the bloody Separatist invasion of Duros was a canonical Clone Wars event from the EU and as soon as I knew there was a Duro in the party, I wanted to tie it in). As Marpa/Daal had quite conclusively rejected that destiny, this story shows the consequences and helps explain just why Jocasta takes such a dislike toward him (his constantly squirming out of deals was probably the other part!).

I only realized it just now after re-reading this story, but I see a lot of influence from Firefly in how I imagine the Sun Runners.


The Sun Runner was at peace. Its burnished gold and brown hull gleamed under the reflected light of Bburru Station, the largest of Duro’s twenty orbital space cities. Through the thick transparisteel roof of the spaceport that housed the oddly-curved ship, bustling traders and down-on-their-luck spacers could sometimes see the burnt orange of Duro’s heavily polluted and uninhabitable atmosphere.

Inside the ship’s lounge, the crew were in high spirits, drinking and laughing with the mix of relaxation and anticipation that came from the end of a week’s shore leave. In a few hours, they’d be off again amongst the stars, led by a woman others despised but that they respected and trusted with their lives. Instead of joining in, however, one member of the crew sat stiffly at the conference table with a recording rod and datapad arranged neatly in front of her.

“Jocasta, my research on the economic feasibility of piracy, smuggling, and small-freighter hauling indicates our current cargo is unlikely to pay for itself; indeed, we’ll be lucky to break even.” The Cerean Kylo-Vas spoke with the confidence that came from complete certainty, even though she’d seen enough to know that Jocasta was rarely wrong.

“You don’t think the art’s valuable?” The pirate, freebooter, and sometime slaver sat on the counter next to the caf-heater, drinking a bottle of synthale.

“In twenty to forty years, perhaps, after the artists have passed from this life and their work acquires the lustre of rarity. But for now, they represent illiquid assets in a profession where liquidity is key.”

The Gamorrean Korkoth grunted and slammed his empty bottle on the table. “Those paintins ain’t liquid,” he grunted, in thickly accented Huttese, the only language the others could understand him in. “They’re solid-like—I loaded ‘em myself.”

Greesh Leedo chortled as he slowly unscrewed his leg, a small vial of oil in his other hand. “You’re a dumb lummox, Korkoth. That’s not what they’re talking about.” Greesh hadn’t been on the ship as long as the Gamorrean had, but the cyber-enhanced Rodian wasn’t the shy type. After all, Jocasta had told him he had a destiny when she busted him out of that Republic detention facility. Anyone else had said something like that, and he woulda shanked ‘em in the eye for being a prat—but when Jocasta said it . . . you believed it.

The intercom beeped and then a man’s voice filled the room. “He’s here, Captain.”

Jocasta tapped the com. “Thanks, Rycar. I’ll meet him in my quarters.” She looked around the lounge. “The rest of you lot . . . you know who we’re dealing with. Come in shooting if you don’t hear from me in ten.” For a second she considered changing the meeting to the cargo bay—having a tank droid like Korg standing behind her would intimidate anyone—but she didn’t like appearing weak in her own ship. Still, she strapped on her gun belt and injected herself with a wide-spectrum anti-toxin. Having pride didn’t mean being stupid.

A few minutes later, she was standing in front of her own quarters. A light tap on the frame slid the doors open to reveal Stefan Cassadine, looking as smartly dressed as ever in a bespoke business suit. But she could tell from his eyes that he was holding back something. He flashed a fake smile.

“Jocasta, it’s been a while.”

“So it has.” She entered the room and sat down across from him. “I’ve got a departure clearance window coming up soon, so I hope you don’t mind if we skip the pleasantries. You’ve been on my trail for months now, and you’ve finally caught up to me, so what do you want?”

“My wife. She’s gone missing, in search of that Jedi boy you’ve been obsessed with. I’m betting that if you know where he is, she’ll be there too.”

Jocasta started to smirk and then thought better of it—Stefan wasn’t someone to trifle with. “It’s true, I try to keep an eye on Tamarand from time to time. Not so much now that I’ve become involved in more . . . meaningful pursuits. Unfortunately, I lost track of him months ago.”

Stefan clutched his head in frustration. He had spent months and half his fortune hiring scouts to scour the galaxy for any trace of Arresta, and his best lead had just vanished. He stood up to leave.

“However,” Jocasta whispered.

Stefan turned around, trying not to appear too desperate. He still had his pride too.

Jocasta continued. “If Arresta is with her Duro friend—Daal, Marpa, Balan, whatever he calls himself these days—I don’t know where she is, but I know where she’ll be.” She explained a little about Kronos—not enough to reveal her crew’s best weapon, but enough to make Stefan believe her. “For the right encouragement, I’ll let you know when and where.”

“What did you have in mind?” Stefan said. Jocasta had him over a barrel, and they both knew it.

“First, I’m a full partner in Cassadine Enterprises. I have connections you lack in the Corporate Sector, the Republic military, and Nal Hutta. I’ll bring in enough to make it worth both our time.”

“And second?”

Suddenly the ship rocked, knocking them both to the ground. Jocasta ran every possibility through her mind. Cassadine? No, he wouldn’t choose such a blunt approach. And it didn’t sound like a direct hit, more of a near miss. It could be . . . but that wasn’t supposed to happen yet! She leapt to her feet and punched the intercom. “Rycar, get us fired up—I want us in the air in three minutes.” She rushed for the door but Stefan grabbed her by the arm and slammed her against the wall.

“What about my wife?” he shouted, as alarm klaxons began to wail.

“There’s one more thing I want,” Jocasta yelled back.

And frantic seconds later, the deal was reached. Stefan ran towards the landing ramp and managed to dive through inches before it closed. As he ran through the spaceport towards the Knife’s Edge, he could see a swarm of Separatist fighter-bombers streak overhead. The invasion of Duro had begun.
Jocasta made her way along the corridor, twice nearly being knocked off her feet by ground tremors. They’re not planning to invade, she thought. They’re planning to destroy. She almost collided with Kronos at a junction. Smoke and sparks filled the corridor, but she grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up. “You said we had a week!”

Kronos removed his spectacles—an affectation, but one he took pride in. “No, mistress. I said there was a 93.5% chance we’d have a week. Apparently the fates have chosen to be unkind this afternoon.”

Jocasta dropped him as another explosion rocked the ship—this time the strafing run had struck home and Jocasta could feel the air pressure change: the transparisteel hanger had been breached, and the vacuum of space was yearning to be let in. With a last stumble, she made it into the cockpit. Rycar was there, his red cloak flopped over the back of his chair. “Seal us up and pressurize,” she shouted.

He nodded and then finished punching in the final ignition cycle. Jocasta strapped herself in tight to the co-pilot’s seat and then keyed the com to order battle stations. She started to sweat, something that hadn’t happened in a long, long time. She knew Rycar was a decent pilot, but he lacked Twitch’s battle experience and Marpa’s sheer talent. His loyalty after being nearly disembowelled going after the droid’s head had earned him a place on the crew, even if he, like Daal, hadn’t succeeded in getting it back.

The Sun Runner lurched into the air as a nearby shuttle slammed into a fuel tank during the mad rush to escape through the hanger’s exit. “Take us straight up—shields double-front!” she shouted.

“But the dome’ll tear us to pieces!” Rycar shouted back, obeying nonetheless.

“Not if Greesh & Korkoth can shoot straight! ” Jocasta said, and then activated the com to the gunner bays.

The Sun Runner ascended quickly, leaving chaos in its wake. The ship’s blaster cannons came to life and rotated straight-up, pouring a stream of liquid fire into the dome. The transparisteel sheets began to glow and melted an instant before the ship smashed through and into open space. Open, if you didn’t count the main CIS battle fleet—hundreds of capital ships and their pickets, along with thousands and thousands of droid fighters. They seemed to outnumber the stars in the sky, and they had no intention of letting anything escape. A fighter group destroyed a passenger liner and then swerved to intercept the Sun Runner.

“Re-balance shields,” Jocasta said, surveying the field. There were too many variables, too many dangers with no time to think. The Oracle showed the Sun Runner escaping . . . this has to work, she thought. “Orient .37, full thrusters—I’ll key in the nav-comp for hyper-jump.” The Sun Runner shot towards the right flank of the invasion fleet, peppered by shots from the pursuing fighters and the occasional stray bolt from point-defence batteries on the picket ships.

“Shields at 37%” Rycar said. He was afraid of dying, but more afraid of disappointing Jocasta and the rest of the crew.

“There!” Jocasta pointed towards two Techno-Union frigates that had moved to engage a late-arriving Republic Cruiser. “If you can squeeze past them, we’ll be out of Duro’s gravity shadow and can make the jump.”

Korkoth’s grunting filled the com as he celebrated destroying a pursuing Tri-fighter. The chase continued, and in seconds Rycar announced “Shields to 13%” The Separatist frigates loomed closer as Jocasta redirected power, even draining the emergency life-support batteries.

“Here we go,” she said softly as Rycar poured on the speed and angled directly for the slim gap between the frigates. It has to work. It’s destiny. But without Marpa? The frigates continued focusing their heavy turbolasers on the Republic Cruiser, but their automated point-defense batteries opened up as the Sun Runner skimmed just meters over their surface. Rycar made the ship bob and weave but blaster bolts filled the sky like raindrops. Suddenly the ship lurched and then started to spin on its axis, faster and faster as the inertial dampeners strained and then blew.

Jocasta was pushed back against the seat from the incredible G forces, but she saw the emergency override and with a desperate surge of strength managed to reach an arm up to tap it. The pressure lessened and the spinning slowed. No shields, no sublight drive. The Sun Runner was dead in space, but if she could just get enough power for the jump to hyperspace . . .

And then she saw it, heading straight towards the cockpit like an arrow—a heavily damage droid starfighter, following its last resort mission protocol: to turn itself into a weapon by smashing into any non-aligned vessel. “Korkoth, Greesh! Take it out—.59!” she shouted. Blaster fire poured from the Sun Runner’s turrets, but it was too late.

There was darkness, and silence, and then Jocasta realized she was on her back, still strapped to her flight chair which had torn free from its housing. Only seconds had passed, and Rycar was trying to get her safety harness released. “Get them . . . to the pods,” she sputtered, blood filling her throat. She heard it then, the wrenching and groaning of the Sun Runner’s damage-control systems trying to heal a wound that was fatal.

Rycar gave the evac order over the com and then the two of them stumbled out into the corridor. Kylo-Vas was there on the floor, a jagged piece of shrapnel protruding from her chest. Her unmoving eyes were open and she still clutched the recording rod in her hand. Jocasta kneeled down.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered before making her way to the escape pod.

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Tales of the Slayers # 1 (comic)

There's good news and bad news about the 2002 Tales of the Slayers one-shot.

It starts with a terrible eight-page story set during Season Two, with really bad kiddie cartoon artwork and an inane story about a genie in a bottle found in an old school locker.

Then it moves to a great, moody story set in New York in 1937, where a homeless Slayer named Rachel O'Connor is conscripted by the government to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring. Gene Colan's pencil-based art is gorgeous here and perfectly fits the atmosphere. The genie in a bottle plot ties in, but in a way that works.

I was thinking about putting in some sort of metaphor in this post about how you have to take the good with the bad in Tales of the Slayers, like a ham and shit sandwich, but then I changed my mind.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Torchwood: Out of Time (S1,E10)

"There's no puzzle to solve, no enemy to fight, just three lost people who have somehow become our responsibility."

Out of Time (Season 1, Episode 10)

("When a plane from 1953 makes an unexpected landing in present-day Cardiff, there are painful consequences for all concerned.")

What I Liked

* How prepared the team is to prove to the newcomers that it's far from 1953; you get the sense that Torchwood has handled the problem of people coming through the Rift many times before.

* The little details that really would seem quite odd to people from the 1950s: automatically opening doors, cigarette packages plastered with "Smoking Kills", the crazy abundance of things in supermarkets compared to post-war England.

* A very original story; as the quote at the top indicates, this really is all about the characters--but even though there's no traditional action scenes, it's a very exciting episode.

* Owen's awesome apartment overlooking Cardiff Bay.

* The suicide scene. Heartbreaking.

What I'm Not Sure About

* All Diane wants to do is fly; given everything else that Torchwood is able to fake, couldn't they fabricate a pilot's license for her?

* The scene where Rhys walks around naked, not realizing that Gwen has brought one of the newcomers home to sleep on the couch, is quite funny. But you'd think Gwen would have come up with a lie ahead of time and warned Rhys--how bad at this job is she?


By: Eve Myles ("Gwen"), Ben Foster (composer), and Alice Troughton (director)

Tone: Narration of What's On Screen

Mildly Interesting Tid-Bits (Not a lot this go-round)

* Ben Foster composed distinct themes for each of the three newcomers.
* The young girl and her two new flat-mates became real-life friends and went out drinking during the shoot.

* The actor portraying the Alzheimer's patient based his performance on his own mother.

Torchwood Declassified: Time Flies

I haven't yet figured out the point of Torchwood Declassified. In earlier episodes, it functioned as a light "making of" sort of feature, showing how particular stunts, special effects, sets, monsters, etc. were created. For the past few episodes, it's been a lot of brief snippets of talking heads opining on things that happened in the episode, but only in the broadest brushstrokes. They're too spoilery to act as a preview for the actual episode, but they're too vague and general to have any purpose after the episode has aired.

Deleted Scenes

There are a lot for this episode.

* Tosh explaining to the other Torchwood team members about how a plane that went missing in 1953 has now come through the Rift.

* Owen giving Diana a physical and flirting with her.

* Jack saying he can't risk sending anyone back through the Rift.

* The newcomers unpacking.

* Diana in the bathroom, smoking. She can't find the chain to flush the toilet.

* The newcomers shown to the Torchwood boardroom, where Owen instructs them on the use of cell phones--a very cute scene.

* Jack in a darkroom developing photos of the newcomers.

* Gwen and the young newcomer talking about darning socks and composting.

* Jack explaining that there's no cure for Alzheimer's.

* Jack and the middle-aged newcomer trying to take the bus. The newcomer gets frustrated when he can't figure out how the money works.

* Owen and Diane having sex in a car.

* Gwen and the young newcomer exchanging Christmas gifts; hence, Gwen's jaunty new beret in the last scene.

Doctor Who: The Aztecs and The Dalek Invasion of Earth

I actually watched The Aztecs several months ago and completely forgot to blog about it. Suffice it to say that the Doctor and Company get involved in an Aztec power struggle, which involves Barbara being mis-perceived as a Goddess, Ian fighting a duel with an Aztec warrior, and the Doctor using his charms to get help from an old lady. It's actually not bad, and I like some of the matte paintings used in the backgrounds.

This past week I watched The Dalek Invasion of Earth, in which the Tardis lands on Earth circa 2164 during a time in which the Daleks have completely enslaved humanity. The Doctor and Company hook up with a human resistance cell, and learn that the Daleks plan to destroy the Earth's magnetic core so the planet can be dragged to a new position in space (exactly where they want to move it, and why, I haven't figured out yet). A post-apocalyptic Earth overrun by Daleks is a good concept, but six parts stretched this thing too far, with some of the middle parts coming out rather boring. This serial is notable for the last appearance of Susan, who decides to stay behind on Earth with her (completely non-)hunky new boyfriend.