Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Torchwood: Risk Assessment


SPOILERY

There's a couple of things that really set James Goss' Risk Assessment apart from other Torchwood novels.

First, there's the introduction of a great new character, Agnes Havisham. Havisham is the Torchwood Assessor, the person responsible for overseeing all Torchwood operations around the world and with the power to close them down if they get out of line. However, Havisham is kept in a perpetual state of suspended animation and awakened only when computers sense a moment of great crisis--something that has only happened four times in the last century. The best thing about Havisham (a Victorian-era spitfire of a woman) is that she's the one person Captain Jack is afraid of--indeed, instead of his normal cool and suave self, he comes across as a bumbling pretty-boy when in her presence. It's rare to see Jack out of his element, and the novel has quite a lot of fun with the situation.

Second, the book has a really nice twist about half way through. Normally, when the heroes attempt all kinds of crazy schemes to stop the big alien menace (in this case, a galaxy-devouring entity called The Vam--which seems rather similar to The Gordian from the story in Torchwood Magazine # 14) we know they're going to fail until finally hitting on a solution in the last chapter or two of the book. Here, however, they dispose of The Vam surprisingly quickly and then we learn that the real threat is something that has been properly hinted at but easy to overlook. Good stuff.

There's also some nice continuity with other Torchwood tie-in products: a new speedboat named The Sea Queen II since the first one was destroyed in The Sin Eaters audio book; a mention of Torchwood India, last seen in The Golden Age radio play; and a chapter set in the Skypoint Apartments from the novel Skypoint. There's also some fun flashbacks to previously unknown adventures that Havisham and Jack have shared, as well as Jack having experimented (and failed miserably) at being something other than a Torchwood operative.

I thought the end was perhaps a bit too jokey, but Goss definitely created a great character in Agnes Haversham--one I would love to see again.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Worst Gaming Experience Ever (as a Player)

I hadn't been planning on blogging about my worst gaming experience as a player, but it just happened yesterday so I figure--why not? This game was so ludicrously mis-directed that it crossed over, right in front of my eyes, from being just plain bad to being hilariously bad, like when you're watching a really sucky, low-budget film on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and realize that experiencing utterly extraordinary ineptitude can somehow evoke a peculiar transcendant humour that is similar in effect but different in source than mere comedy. It also makes me extremely grateful to have the regular gaming group I have; I know that every single one of them can direct games a hundred times better than what happened yesterday.

I should preface this by saying that I don't get to actually play all that often, so I'm always grateful for the opportunity. I always try to give directors the benefit of the doubt, especially in the first sessions of a campaign because it can take a little while to get everyone on the same page and for the adventuring fun to begin. Directors might be nervous, learning new rules, or simply inexperienced and a little leeway from players is important so that they have time to get the hang of it.

But still . . .

This particular game was the first in a proposed campaign using D&D 3.5 rules. Except for a friend I brought along as a fellow player, the others were strangers found via the Internet. The director had a friend who was "co-directing" the game, basically by playing a high-level Cleric as an NPC/PC. I'm set to play a swashbuckling fighter, my friend to run a Wu Jen (an exotic wizard-type), and a third person is to run a druid. Everyone assembles for the first time at a mall food court (a bit of an odd location for a game, but it was equidistant for all concerned and didn't particularly bother me). After introductions are made, we get out our dice, character sheets, pencils, miniatures. and we're ready to roll.

"So what happens is," the director begins. "you're all in a city. Not the capital city. There's a tall building, and on top of it are like three level 15 fighters, a couple of level 10 wizards, some high level clerics. One of the high-level clerics gives you [referring to his friend, playing the NPC] an item, and you're supposed to take it to the Elves. And you guys [referring to the rest of us] are supposed to go to the top of the building." Neither this city, the capital city, the building, or anything else has a name. But that's okay--benefit of the doubt!

Now, none of us players know why our characters are supposed to go to the top of the building, or why we're being told the levels of the people up there (something our characters definitely don't know). But we're all in this to have fun, and shrug. "Okay," I say. "Are there stairs?" "Yes." "I climb the stairs."

"So what happens is," the director continues, "you're all on top of the building. And then a shadow approaches. And the shadow casts Darkness, and you see a figure, and then all the high-level characters are dead. And then the figure is there. And then you realize the figure is looking through the bodies for the item."

We sensibly decide to run away and reach street-level. We briefly talk about whether we should hide out in an alleyway or abandoned warehouse, but then the director speaks up again "the priesthood has safehouses. Okay, so you're at the safehouse. The priest takes a look at the item." The tracks of this railroad are being laid down, but sometimes that's necessary at the very beginning--I am patient.

At this point, we have no idea what the item is, who the assassin is, or why we (the PCs) are even here. The director does not role-play NPCs--he simply tells us what they say and "what happens next." In character, I suggest we destroy the item, on the logic that if the assassin keeps tracking us, a trail of bodies could be left in our wake. "It's an Epic item!" the director interjects. "But my character doesn't know that," I respond. The item is then put safely in a bag of holding and tucked into the NPC's armor. Give new directors leeway! I remind myself.

The next day, there's some stuff about zombies hanging about outside the temple. After inquiries are made, the director contradictorily tells us that the zombies are because of something his friend did in a previous adventure and because the NPC cleric "accidentally left the item out last night." We now learn that this item is broken pieces of a seal to keep some super-evil big bad (never named) in prison, and we have to get it to "the Elves" so they can fix it.

We leave through the back door of the temple and hit the road, seeing the city in flames behind us. "How far away are we from the Elves?" one of us asks. "A couple of weeks," is the reply. We travel along the road for "about a week" and find a grove. "A figure suddenly looms behind you," says the director. The druid PC turns around to encounter another druid. They role-play for a minute or two, and then the director says "And what happens is, this guy was your mentor." The druid PC looks surprised, but shrugs it off and asks for his new/old mentor's name. The director pauses for several seconds and comes out with "Ashton."

The next day we leave the grove and travel on for a couple of more days. "How far to the Elves?" we ask. "A couple of weeks," is the response. This seems a bit odd, but I smile and we continue on. I take a brief break and go to the bathroom. On the way back, I realize only an hour and a half has passed and the game is scheduled to go on for four more hours. I literally shuffle my feet on the way back, so as to make more time tick away.

A "powerful, mysterious old man" suddenly appears in the back of our wagon. He interacts with the director's friend, as he's apparently a pet NPC from their prior games together. I ask the old man if he can really appear and disappear at will and travel from place to place in the blink of an eye. He assents. I therefore ask him if he can take the item to the Elves (world-threatening problem solved and I'll get home in time for an afternoon nap!)

The director is very taken aback, and at a loss to answer. Eventually, we learn that "the Rules" prevent the old man from taking the item, but that he can help us with information. He talks a lot, but we get no information.

After we travel for "several days," we're followed in our forest camp by bandits belonging to the "the Duke" (later, "the Baron") who are after "the item." In what could be an interesting bit of role-playing, the PCs begin to debate whether we should attack the bandits or wait to see if they make the first move--all to naught, however, as the director quickly interjects "The bandits attack!"

The director handles this combat with no notes or references whatsoever--obviously simply deciding on whether we hit or get hit by whim and a rough sense of whether we rolled "high" or "low." He often asks us, mysteriously, to roll a die. Which die? one of the players ask. For what? asks another. The director clearly doesn't know. He has his friend roll a Knowledge: History check and the result is a modified 4; the director gives him "information" anyway.

My friend is starting to get frustrated, and we've already determined we won't be back for another session--we talk about whether this has reached the "I just got a phone call and my wife is sick" point, but decide to see it through.

During this fight, I learn that my PC "used to be a guardsman." This doesn't make any sense considering the background I wrote and e-mailed the director, but that's okay. I'm beginning to smile at the sheer randomness of it all, and start passing the time by people-watching others in the mall and thinking about snack options.

More days on the road pass, and we reach a swamp. The ritual "how far are the Elves now?" arises. "A couple of weeks," is the reply, which set me off laughing--I have reached the MST3K point. Even the director's friend looks at him with a Dude, what the hell are you doing? look.

At about the four-hour mark, we are given our first choice: we can continue on the trail through the swamp and reach the Elves in about "a week" or take a shortcut through the forest. The player running the druid asks about the different trails, and receivs a bewildering and contradictory response. All things being equal, we decide to take "the shortcut" because the Wu Jen is told he senses Orcs approaching from the North and the shortcut is South.

We head South and are told "you see a green wall in front of you." "Like, trees?" I ask. "No," replies the director. "Well, what's the wall made out of?" asks another player. "Flesh!" responds the director. Here, I'm envisioning a grotesque Living Wall monster I vaguely remember. Further questioning pins the director down on the fact that the "wall" is actually a metaphor for fifty Orcs who are heading our way--we are thus trapped between two Orc armies. The Wu Jen wonders why he would have known about the Orcs from the North and not the Orcs from the South, but to no avail.

I think this could be fun in a "battle-to-the-death" sort of way, so I suggest that the druid (who can shapechange into an eagle) take the item and fly away to the Elves while the rest of us hold off the Orcs. The Director doesn't like this idea, so suddenly each of the Orcs has a bow-and-arrow and aims it at the sky. The druid, however, has a Windwall spell to protect us against arrows. The Director decides that the Orcs have a Level 15 shaman (?) who casts Dispel Magic on the Windwall. I jokingly threaten to slit my own throat rather than be taken alive by orcs. But now the Director tells the Wu Jen that he recognizes someone among the Orcs, a fellow "emissary from the Emperor" and that the Orcs actually want to help us. If the Orcs want to help us, why did they threaten us with a rain of arrows and dispel our protective magic? But okay.

How do they want to help us? They want to give us food and water (we haven't had to keep track of such things, and between hunting and Create Food and Water we would have been okay, but fine). We hurry our way through this senseless encounter and reach the forest.

My friend checks his cellphone and realizes he "needs to leave in half an hour." I can't blame him for it. The group comes to a river that has an illusion cast on it, so it's twice as wide as it looks and there are some aquatic trolls lurking in the depths. This obstacle proves mildly interesting, but with some clever spellcraft, we cross the river.

Then we encounter Ents. We ask the Ents how far away are the Elves. "About a week," we're told. The director's friend is clearly frustrated: "But that's what you said before we took the shortcut, and we took the shortcut!"

And on this high note, the session ended. Will a disparate group of characters, assembled in an unnamed place and with no known motivation to travel together, succeed in delivering an unnamed item (necessary to deter an unnamed evil) to "the Elves" after travelling for several weeks on a treadmill? Alas, we'll simply never know . . .

The best explanation I can think of for ineptitude at this level of awesomeness is a complete and total lack of preparation at every stage of directing: (1) A failure to prepare a story or (better yet!) some story options; (2) A failure to prepare some NPCs; (3) A failure to prepare some encounters; (4) A failure to prepare by understanding the basic rules of the game; (5) A failure to prepare by creating a setting. Add to this extreme railroading, no attention to detail, no ability or demonstrated interest in role-playing, running combat by whim, and you have the perfect formula for My Worst Gaming Experience Ever (as a player).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Funniest Gaming Moment

A lot of hilarious events have occurred during gaming over the years, but I think the funniest took place during a D&D game in a friend's homebrew world. Half of the group couldn't show up that night, so it was just me (playing a goblin merchant, armed with a crossbow) and one other PC (playing a druid, armed with a cudgel) adventuring. I don't remember exactly why, but we got involved in a very dramatic and exciting carriage chase with a couple of NPC bad guys. I managed to hit the horses dragging the enemy carriage with some deadly accurate hits from my crossbow, sending the whole contraption tumbling into a mess of horseflesh, broken carriage, and battered NPCs. After our carriage draws to a stop, the druid and I get out and investigate. We learn that the NPCs are unconscious and the horses are dead.

Apparently, the player running the druid didn't hear this last part. "I walk up to the horses," he says, "and hit them in the head with my cudgel. You know, to put them out of their misery."

I sputter "Talk about beating a dead horse!" and collapse into paroxysms of laughter, tears streaming down my cheeks. It must've took 20 minutes for us to regain our cool, and I still smile just thinking about that today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Le club des veufs noirs [Book Review]


I never knew that famed science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov also produced several down-to-earth mysteries. Le club des veufs noirs ("The Black Widowers Club") is a collection of short stories that each take place within the four walls of a monthly men's supper club. The Black Widowers only have four rules: no women allowed, every member must call each "Doctor", nothing said within the club can be repeated outside, and the rotating host must invite an outside guest. Each story has the same set-up: after a bit of chatter and banter, this month's guest explains a particular mystery that has been vexing him and the six Black Widowers debate possible solutions back and forth. And then their waiter, Henry, solves the problem by placing a few pointed questions.

These are very nice, light mysteries, just complex enough to give the reader a fighting chance to solve them before the end. Because they all have the same setting and progression, it's better to space out the stories than reading the whole book at once. I know Asimov published some subsequent Black Widowers stories in Ellery Queen, so if I ever come across a collection I'll definitely pick it up.

Next: SAS À ISTANBUL (a cheap spy novel)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign Recap Extra: Birthday & Stefan's Turn

These two short stories (written by Arresta's player) are set during the last recap, as several months pass for everyone before they're reunited on Etti IV. It gives some really interesting insight into Arresta and Stefan's relationship, which is sometimes very sturm und drang when presented "on screen" but can also be quite touching.


BIRTHDAY

The nurse spoke encouragingly. “Here comes another one – just keep breathing!”

Arresta forced herself to smile through the pain and resist the urge to make a sarcastic retort to the irritating and obvious platitude.

Following her collapse after their arrival on Rhinnal, she had awoken in the hospital and a doctor had informed her that her ‘elevated stress level’ had brought on premature labour. She had almost laughed when the kindly physician asked her if she had been through anything particularly upsetting lately….

She had never felt so alone. Surrounded by doctors, nurses and medical technicians, Arresta was the centre of a virtual maelstrom of activity. Outside the door, she knew that Stefan and his coterie of guards were waiting; making certain that all was well. Yet, as the person at the epicenter of all of this attention, she felt as though her heart was breaking and that there was no one, anywhere, who could understand how she felt…

It had been a stupid, childish fantasy. The idea that Tarn would miraculously find his way to her was ludicrous. He was still incapacitated and had gone on his way to Coruscant with Doxen and Atel. Besides, until Arresta herself had arrived here, she hadn’t known that this was where Stefan was taking her. These facts alone would have made it preposterous, but even if he had made it here, he would never have gotten past Stefan and his guards. She should have known better.

Still, she wanted to believe that hat moment in the airlock, when he had reached out and taken hold of her arm was a sign that Tarn was coming back. That her love and need for him would be enough to draw him back from whatever abyss he was in. Foolish sentiment – but enough to provide some small measure of comfort during the waning days of her pregnancy.

The weeks following the departure of her friends had been a disaster. Stefan was furious – cold and distant – frightening even his long-time retainers. She hadn’t known how to fix that and she had been far too wrapped up in her own thoughts to realize how bleak things had become with her husband.

To be fair, Stefan had made an effort to be solicitous following her collapse. He had spoken some encouraging words, kissed her on the forehead and departed, leaving her in the ‘capable hands of her physicians’. For her part, she knew that she deserved the anger that he had unleashed on her since they were reunited on Endregaad. She was a failure…as a wife, as a mother and, if Tarn had awoken, likely he would have thought so, too.

As her body was wracked by another labour pain, she wallowed in the thought that likely, if their rescue attempt had been more successful and Tarn had been conscious, he would have turned away from her again, discarding any attachment to her or their child in favour of the great and powerful Jedi Order….

But then, his touch in the airlock had to have meant something. Hadn’t Atel, another Jedi, been unable to wake him? Why would he reach out to Arresta if there wasn’t something real between them?

“Doctor….she’s not handling the labour well…” She heard the whispered commentary from the Nurse and felt another wave of shame. Wonderful. Something else she was rubbish at.

Princess, you know we have a special connection…

Some spark of a memory drew her mind back to the night her child had been conceived. Things hadn’t gone according to plan – her attempts at flirtation having gotten completely out of hand – but did that make the night any less real? In her heart, she knew that yes, things with Tarn would undoubtedly have been a mess, but she could never really doubt that he would have cared for their baby. He would want her to fight…

Another wave of pain, more intense than the others washed over her and battered the spark of her resolve….I don’t want to be here…not like this….She concentrated on her breathing and held on through the contraction….from inside, a voice that almost sounded like the old, confident Arresta, sounded in her ear…Alright then, how do you want it to be?

She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Part of her listened to the prattling instructions of the medical personnel to push, push while the rest of her imagined she could feel a hand gripping hers, another resting against her back. She could almost believe she heard whispered words of encouragement.

One last push and she felt a great lessening and a small sense of loss, far out-weighed by the surge of joy she felt seconds later at the sound of her baby crying. By the time they placed her daughter in her arms, she had herself under control. The baby looked up at her and in those eyes – Tarn’s eyes – she realized that whatever she’d lost, whatever might never be found again, here was something she could hold on to. A new reason to fight.

She could hear Stefan just outside the door and she knew that in moments, she would begin the great deception that would define life for the foreseeable future. But for now…

“Did you have a named picked out Mrs. Cassadine?”

Arresta looked at the nurse and took a deep breath. She had, some time ago, made a decision that she knew was going to be costly, as far as repairing her relationship with Stefan was concerned. Still, some things are worth the risk…

She gave the name to the Nurse for the birth certificate and double-checked the spelling. The woman smiled, promised to file the paperwork immediately and turned away, leaving Arresta alone with her little daughter.

“Hello, Allegra…”she whispered, “Mommy loves you. And you should know that wherever he is, wherever he really is, if he knew….your Daddy would love you too…”

STEFAN'S TURN

Jealousy is that pain which a man feels from the apprehension that he is not equally beloved by the person whom he entirely loves . . .

Arresta deliberately turned her back on the intelligence operative and made her way inside without another backwards glance. Returning to the nursery, she checked in on Allegra and, finding her daughter dozing peacefully, she settled into a rocking chair to think. Quite the little dilemma had been dropped into her lap…

She was loyal– always had been, and it was difficult for her to abandon any of the few friends she had in a time of need. A’tel had done a lot for her. Still, from what the intelligence rep had said, this was all part of a Jedi assignment that he had accepted – and by rights, the Council wouldn’t have assigned it to him if they didn’t believe in him.

Still, there was a part of her that longed for the action and excitement of getting out into the world again. Only a month on this peaceful planet and she was feeling a bit cooped up. But, there were compensations….

Glancing over at her sleeping baby, she felt a surge of affection. How could she abandon Allegra and leave her without a mother? What if something happened and her little daughter had to grow up without her?

Sighing, she admitted to herself that truly, there was only one Jedi out there that she would risk dying for, and that wasn’t A’tel. Not to mention, from everything she had learned, her previous disappearance – which had only been meant to be short term – had nearly driven her husband into a complete meltdown. If she vanished again, he might snap entirely.

Despite her love for Tarn, she still cared deeply for Stefan and it troubled her to think that she had caused him so much distress…If she left again that would place herself, Allegra and especially Tarn in danger. No, in order to keep the people she loved safe, sane and alive, Arresta needed to remain at Stefan’s side.

Regretful, but having reached her decision, she had gone immediately to Stefan and, finding him with Corinne, had sent her sister away so that she could speak with her husband alone.

Deliberately and simply, she laid out the facts of what had transpired that afternoon – the arrival of the intelligence agent, his proposal and the location of the shuttle that would be departing in just a few hours.

Stefan looked at her intently over the top of his glass. “Why are you telling me this?”

She returned his gaze, evenly. “A’tel is a friend, and I would like to help him – but my place is here. With you, and with Allegra. I wanted you to know I’m not going.

“I know you’re not.”

Despite her best efforts, the conversation that followed couldn’t exactly be called successful. They had fought, again, about why she had followed Tarn to Endregaad. Stefan had pushed her to promise that she would never see Tarn again. Her reluctance to make such a declaration had been obvious and he’d been furious. Ultimately, he’d backed her into a corner, threatening to kill Tarn if he ever saw him again. She’d sworn that would never happen – that neither she nor Stefan would ever see him again.

It was what he’d wanted to hear, but to claim that either of them was happy with the outcome of the conversation would be an overstatement….

Finally leaving him alone, she had spent the remainder of the afternoon fussing over the baby and pondering how best to resolve her next problem – how to make things better with husband.

Certainly, she knew that this was the best way to protect Tarn, but that wasn’t the only reason. As frustrated as their arguments made her, she felt terribly guilty – and she could see the hurt that lay, poorly concealed, behind his cold exterior. For the good of both of the men she loved, she needed to start making a life as Stefan’s wife…any other dreams were just foolish wishes that had to be put aside, even if it killed her to do so.

She waited until well after dinner, when Corinne had retired for the evening and Stefan had, as was becoming his custom, withdrawn to his private study. She seldom interrupted him during this time, so he looked up in some surprise as she entered the room. Her long, blonde hair was down and she was wearing a silvery grey dressing gown with matching robe. He paused, while sipping a rather superior scotch, to admire her.

“Did you need something, Pet?” His voice was pleasant enough, but if you knew him well, and Arresta did, you could sense the bitter undertones that gave away his true mood.

“I have some baby pictures that I was hoping you could send to that shuttle for me. I’d like my friends to know that I’m alright.” She placed the holo disk on the table.

She waited, but all he did was nod. “I suppose I can do that. And, thank you for the information on your visitor, dearest. I’ll look into upgrading our security.”

His eyes were still cold and he turned, intending to return his attention to the book he had been reading. It was clearly a dismissal.

She sighed. “Stefan – this has to stop.”

He looked up at her sharply but she hurried on. “I hurt you. I’m sorry for that – and I’ll tell you again – I had no idea that I would disappear for as long as I did. But it’s been two months – and I’m beginning to wonder if you’re ever going to forgive me.”

He spoke slowly, almost as though the words were being pulled forth, reluctantly. “You’ve said that before, but then we have an argument like we did this afternoon and it makes it difficult for me to believe you. How do I know you won’t disappear again, tomorrow?”

Her heart caught and she reached out, impulsively, and grabbed his hand. “I won’t. I promise.”

He idly stroked that back of her hand with his thumb and then he said something she hadn’t expected. “You loved him, didn’t you?” She looked at him quizzically so he continued on. “The boy…all this time, I wanted to believe he was just a mistake – a fling to distract you because I wasn’t there – but it was more than that, wasn’t it?”

She hesitated, hating to upset him again, but not willing to lie. “Yes.”

He didn’t release her hand and the moment stretched, achingly, between them. “And what about me, Pet – how do you feel about me?”

Tears sprang to her eyes and, not knowing what else to do, she knelt down beside the arm chair and kissed him. She rested her forehead against his. “I love you, too.”

He kissed her back, fiercely. Tugging on her wrists, he pulled her upwards, into his lap, the better to have her in his arms. They sat quietly together for long moments. Then, he gently drew his hand down the side of her face. Her breath caught and he looked at her, intently, seeking confirmation of signs he thought he recognized…

Running a thumb down her chin and collarbone to push her hair back, he tilted her head, providing better access to her neck, to more easily trail his lips down the path his fingers had cleared. Feeling her pulse start to race, he kissed her again, the kind of kiss he used to give her when they first met, making the world fade to a blur and the universe shrink to just the two of them…

When he suddenly pulled away, she made a small noise of involuntary protest. He grasped her chin with his thumb and forefinger and looked into her eyes. When he spoke, his voice was ragged. “Show me then, Arresta. Show me that you love me.”

At that moment, in her husband’s arms, finally sensing warmth again after weeks of slow-burning anger, Arresta didn’t hesitate. Her love for the absent Tarn didn’t burn any less brightly, but right here, in this moment, Stefan was all that mattered. Trying to heal the wounds that she had caused, was the least that she could do…and, after all, he was her husband…

Memories stirred, of illicit midnight trysts during her education, of the rare trips away when they had indulged themselves wantonly – times when she had believed that there could never be another man to make her feel the way that Stefan did.

She looked into his eyes and for right now, at least, he could imagine that there was no one else.

Eyes open, gaze locked on his, she kissed him gently, and then whispered. “Come to bed….and you won’t have to doubt it.” She stood up, holding his hand.
************************************************************************
Much later, she slipped into a robe, before kissing him softly and heading off to check on Allegra. Sitting up in bed, Stefan leaned back against the pillows, hands clasped behind his head, waiting for her to return.

She had surprised him tonight….but finally, for the first time since she’d disappeared on that accursed planet, he’d felt as though he had his wife back. He was no fool. He knew she wasn’t finished with the boy – he’d seen it in her eyes when she’d admitted her love for the Jedi – but tonight was proof that somewhere, deep inside, she knew who she belonged to.

For a time, following Tamarand’s little performance when leaving The Knife’s Edge, he’d almost wondered if he’d made a mistake – whether holding on to Arresta so tightly was an exercise in futility. Not anymore. Whatever it took - no matter the cost – he intended to be the only man in his wife’s heart.

Arresta returned and slipped into bed beside him. She was cautious, as though afraid that his anger would flare up and he would retreat from her. As she related some small tidbit about the baby’s latest adorable gesture, he put his arm around her and she smiled.

He was content for the moment. After all, destroying her remaining feelings for Tarn Tamarand and reducing his memory to ashes, was just another form of assassination – and in that art, he was unmatched.

With that happy thought in mind, he lifted Arresta’s hand to his lips and began to slowly kiss his way down her arm. She sighed. Deep inside him, a surge of rage flared. A man shouldn’t have to seduce his own wife. But, he had obligations and plans, and he needed Arresta by his side to achieve them. He hadn’t forgiven her for her betrayal in chasing after the boy, but her punishment for that – watching the boy die – would have to wait. And, if she behaved herself, came to her senses and lived up to his expectations for her, perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a punishment at all….

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Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Browns Pick Up Worst Quarterback in the League, Pay him $ 7 Million


The other day I was skimming some football blogs, something I hadn't done since the Super Bowl. I see, as expected, that the Browns let go QB Derek Anderson. Then, I'm somewhat surprised to see they also traded away QB Brady Quinn.

Later on, I see a headline about 35-year-old Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme, and I think to myself What a loser--Panthers' must have dropped his sorry ass. Clicking on the post, I learned I was correct. I also learned he was promptly picked up by the Browns, who intend to start Delhomme and pay him Seven Million Dollars.

Seriously--Worst. Quarterback. In. The. League. (okay, the Raiders' Jemarcus Russell was pretty bad last year too, but still!).

Read all about it, in this ESPN article understatedly titled

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Contessa


Here's the character for a session of the new Doctor Who role-playing game. I really enjoyed playing The Contessa, and she had a lot of fun interaction with the other PCs.

--------------------------------------------------

“The Contessa”

NAME: Contessa Penelope Whitmore

ATTRIBUTES

Awareness: 4
Coordination: 3
Ingenuity: 4
Presence: 2
Resolve: 5
Strength: 2

(total spent: 20)

SKILLS

Athletics: 1
Convince: 3
Craft: 0
Fighting: 2
Knowledge: 3
Marksman: 0
Medicine: 1
Science: 4
Subterfuge: 1
Survival: 1
Technology: 4
Transport: 0

(total spent: 20)

GOOD TRAITS

Boffin (can create gadgets)
Brave (+2 Resolve to show courage)
Time Traveller (Familiar with technology level 4)
Time Agent (Familiar with Technology level 8, possess vortex manipulator, gain vortex trait as bonus)
Vortex (+2 any roll to control vortex manipulator or time travel)

(total spent: 6, plus 2 story points)

BAD TRAITS

Adversary (Minor) (rivalry with Time Agency)
By the Book (follows protocol, and deviation requires Ingenuity+Resolve+2;+2 to resist Hypnosis/Possession)
Distinctive (dressed as upper class Victorian female, carries parasol)
Obligation (Minor) (member of the Time Variance Authority)

(total gained: 4)

EQUIPMENT

Vortex Manipulator (parasol)
Time variance detector & tempoeral manacles (gold pocket watch) (2 points)
Retractable spyglass

STORY POINTS: 8

APPEARANCE
See picture (taken from Soulless by Gail Carriger)

BACKGROUND

Contessa Penelope Whitmore (“The Contessa”) is a junior member of the Time Variance Authority (“TVA”), a 51st century organization devoted to finding and correcting variances and anachronisms in the timeline. The TVA is a rival organization to the Time Agency. Whereas the Time Agency is known for a free-wheeling, gunslinging mentality (as demonstrated by Captain Jack Harkness and Captain John Hart), the TVA models itself after Victorian England: its members believe in caution, decorum, and protocol.

The Contessa travels through time with the aid of her Vortex Manipulator, cunningly concealed in her parasol. Once she arrives at the correct time, she uses a Time Variance Locator concealed in a gold pocket watch to help find the exact cause of temporal anomalies. The Contessa specializes in 18th to 20th Century variances, but hopes to broaden her knowledge in order to be promoted within the TVA.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oz: Into the Wild [Buffy]


Oz: Into the Wild

By Christopher Golden (2002)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Four

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Oz, Gib Cain, Giles, Buffy, Xander, Willow, Cousin Jordy, Aunt Maureen, Uncle Ken

SIGNIFICANT ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Caesar Torres, Desiree Adams (friends); The Pierrault Brothers (vampires); Jinan (Kaohsiung demon); Wuxi (sorcerer); Master Shantou (monk); Muztag (demon lord)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “Bitten by his werewolf cousin Jordy, Oz has struggled with the forces of evil that transform him into a beast three nights of each month. Those who care about him have learned to deal with his alter ego and accept him for who he is. But Oz himself isn’t sure who he really is. Part human, part dangerous animal, he must constantly question his basic nature, and worries that he might, as the wolf, bring harm to his loved ones. Therefore, with great difficulty, he leaves Sunnydale and sets off on a course toward enlightenment. Giles has told him of a Watcher in the Fiji islands who might help him transcend the lunar pull. Oz’s journeys take him from Australia to Hong Kong, and even to Tibet. Far-flung regions and exotic cultures provide new understandings of consciousness and human nature. Before long, though, he realizes that he must gain control of his inner wolf sooner rather than later—or risk finding himself not predator, but rather, prey. . . .”

REVIEW

Oz: Into the Wild is rather unusual in the Buffy line of original novels, being one of only two to focus on a single character (the other one being Faith’s Go Ask Malice). Oz is a surprisingly choice for this honor—although a popular character, he’s not the first Scooby one might think of to demand a solo book. Still, the great thing about a Buffy book sans-Buffy is that it forces the writer to come up with a storyline that is different than the norm. Very little of Oz: Into the Wild even takes place in Sunnydale.

Set between Oz deciding to leave after killing fellow werewolf Veruca in the Season Four episode Wild at Heart and his brief return in New Moon Rising, the novel tells of Oz’s journey to the mountains of Tibet in search of a cure for his lycanthropy. Along the way, he befriends a shape-changing Kaohsiung demon named Jinan who develops a strong crush on Oz—however, he’s determined to stay loyal to Willow and return to Sunnydale once he finds a cure. In Tibet, Oz ends up helping a small group of villagers and monks fight a powerful (and pretty unoriginal) demon lord named Muztag. Gib Cain, the werewolf hunter from the show, trails Oz throughout most of the book and is given a little bit more of a personality than he used to have.

The author, Christopher Golden, provides reliable dialogue and solid action scenes, and demonstrates that he actually researched many of the far-off places to which the characters venture. I can’t say Oz: Into the Wild is a great book, but it does provide a nice bit of character development for Buffy’s quietest character, and the fact that it fills in a missing period for the character between T.V. appearances is a nice bonus.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Neville Robideaux, Noble Impersonator


I may be playing in a new, monthly D&D 3.5 game set in a homebrew world. I've created a swashbuckling Fighter for the game, Neville Robideaux. I'm basing him a little bit off of Volstagg from the Thor comics (a very heavyset man, who is surprisingly spry) with a bit of an over-inflated sense of honor to make things interesting. He's starting out at fifth level, and should he survive until sixth, I'll have him take the Duelist prestige class which will give him a much-needed boost to his armor class.

NEVILLE ROBIDEAUX

BACKGROUND

In his childhood, the man today known as Neville Robideaux was a servant named Jak Terwilliger. Jak was a stableboy for the wealthy Robideaux family of nobles, and about the same age as the real Neville. During a journey near the disputed borderlands, the Robideaux caravan was attacked by a vicious band of Orcs called the Red Hand. Jak escaped death by hiding under a carriage, but the entire Robideaux family and the rest of the servants were murdered and their bodies burned in a mass pyre. Later, after the Orcs departed, Jak staggered to the nearest town. Although traumatized by what had happened, Jak had the foresight to seize on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change his station in life—claiming to be Neville Robideaux, young Jak managed to pass successfully for several years, living off the inheritance left by the elder Robideaux.

As an adult, Neville Robideaux barely remembers that his life is a lie. Although he constantly seeks for clues as to the location of the Red Hand, he fritters away time and money in the lifestyle of a minor nobleman—gambling, dancing, and getting himself into duels of honour. Although a rotund man, Neville is surprisingly agile and prone to feats of derring-do.






Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Kylo-Vas, Small Group Dynamicist







Early on when the characters encountered the Sun Runners, one of the interesting wrinkles was the presence of Kylo-Vas, a Cerean female. Kylo-Vas was usually with the Sun Runners but didn't seem to belong--that is, she seemed to be recording everything they did and often interviewing them. Although it didn't come out in the game, Kylo-Vas was a "small group dynamicist" (a made-up name for a scholar who studies behavior and interaction at a micro-organizational level) from a major Cerean university. She used her family's great wealth to convince Jocasta to let her come along with the Sun Runners on many of their missions in order to gain fodder for her research. However, even academic pursuits can be deadly--Kylo-Vas died during the Separaist invasion of Duro, as detailed in the Last Voyage of the Sun Runner story.
Although she didn't have much of a role in the campaign, I thought she was a good example to the players of how a non-combat oriented character could be a member of an adventuring group.





Monday, March 15, 2010

Torchwood: End of Days (S1,E13)


"The first thing you learn when joining Torchwood is Don't Mess with the Rift. Now everything that's happened is down to you."

End of Days (Season 1, Episode 13)

("The rift has opened--and time is splintering. Can Captain Jack save the world?")

What I Liked

* The return of PC Andy--the actor really does have great comic timing and livens up every scene he is in.

* The visions the Torchwood team members experience--I always appreciate it when writers put in callbacks to previous episodes.

What I Didn't Like

* Abaddon. Inferior CGI, not enough set up or development, not the sort of threat Torchwood is designed around. I know the showrunners wanted to end Season 1 with a bang, but a creature like Abaddon really needs to be hinted at and developed through the whole season in order to be a convincing threat.

* The aftermath. After this massive betrayal by every single one of his teammates, Captain Jack basically just "hugs it out" with everyone? Even Owen, who shot him in the freakin' forehead? If the team is really this dysfunctional (cripes, Ianto shot Owen just an episode ago), why would Jack keep the same mix of personalities around for Season Two?

What I'm Not Sure About

* Bilis Manger. I love the character, but (even with the novel The Twilight Streets) he just doesn't seem like an ancient god-worshipping zealot. Bilis is too good a villain to be anyone's lackey.

Commentary

By: Richard Stokes (producer), Ashley Way (director), John Barrowman ("Captain Jack Harkness")

Interesting Bits:

* In the original script for this episode, Rhys dies.

* They got a real BBC News presenter and graphics for the "disaster around the world" segment.

* Burn Gorman lost a crown during one of the scenes, and had to mumble the rest of his part. They filled in both the tooth and the missing dialogue later.

Deleted Scenes

* Owen & Tosh going into the hospital.

* Tosh and Ianto trying to persuade Jack to use Emergency Protocol # 1 to open the rift.

* Jack explaining to Gwen that perhaps the reason he can't die is because he's meant to sacrifice his life to stop Abaddon.

* Gwen finding Jack's body.

Torchwood Declassified: "To the End"

* A feature on Bilis Manger--labelled variously as "creepy," "ambiguous," and (by John Barrowman) "an evil gay"

* Bits about the visions of past character sequences.

* The making of Abaddon.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Aunt May or a Lich?

Is the picture below either (a) Peter Parker's Aunt May as drawn by Erik Larsen or (b) An ancient evil undead sorceror lich from the D&D Monster Manual?




Huh. Believe it or not, the answer is (a).







Tatooine Ghost


This was an interesting Star Wars novel that served as a nice bridge between the early life of Anakin Skywalker depicted in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and the legacy of Darth Vader as seen by his children in post-Return of the Jedi novels. Tatooine Ghost is set after The Courtship of Princess Leia (when Han and Leia get married) but before the Thrawn trilogy and subsequent novels where we learn the two have had children. The book takes place entirely on Tatooine, and intersects nicely with the past (Leia finds Shmi Skywalker's diary, the Tusken camp where she was killed, Obi-Wan's hut, etc.) and the future (Leia decides having children is something she wants to do after all, we get subtle hints that a certain Imperial officer is an expert in military tactics and will rapidly move through the ranks, etc.).

The paperback also includes a short story which depicts something I've never seen before: Chewbacca's dialogue in a comprehensible form, as he talks to his wife and kid (Yes, "Lumpy" from the much-derided Star Wars Holiday Special).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Daphne, American Valley Girl in London


A friend of mine is prepping a one-shot for next week using the new Doctor Who role-playing games. I want my character to be a surprise, so instead I'll share with you my wife's character.

Imagine Daphne from Scooby Doo in appearance and clumsiness (though with a valley girl accent). She's an American undergrad, majoring in psychology, who is taking a tour through Europe.

NAME: Daphne

Personal Goal: See Europe on a budget. Find cute new guy.

Personality: Like, such a total doll. Bit of a clutz though.

ATTRIBUTES

Awareness: 3

Coordination: 1

Ingenuity: 4

Presence: 5

Resolve: 3

Strength: 2

SKILLS

Athletics: 3

Convince: 5 (expertise in: Seduction, Bluff, Charm)

Fighting: 3 (expertise in: unarmed combat)

Knowledge: 3 (expertise in: psychology)

Medicine: 3 (expertise in: psychological trauma)

TRAITS

Attractive

Charming

Lucky


Clumsy

Distinctive

EQUIPMENT

Mace (the spray kind, not the medieval weapon!)

Make-up

Backpack

Walkman (with The Bengals cassette tape)

European Train Guide

Hairspray (the spray kind, not the musical)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Torchwood Magazine # 19


I'm finally able to review some of these when they actually come out--crazy, I know! (hey, I'm still writing reviews of Buffy books published eight years ago, so this is quite a feat for me) Issue # 19 of Torchwood Magazine features:

* News that Eve Myles has been named the seventh sexiest woman in Wales in a recent online contest. No offense to the Welsh, but . . . really? I just don't see it. A separate news blurb mentions that John Barrowman is performing in drag for a production of La Cage Aux Folles. Next year, he might just place higher on the list than Eve . . .

* Some extraordinarily cool and gross concept sketches for the 456 alien by Neill Gorton of Millenium FX. I'm too lazy to scan them in, but they're fantastic. I will blatantly plagiarize Gorton the next time I need a monster for a role-playing game and want the players to have nightmares.

* Interviews with the actors who played Ianto's sister and brother-in-law in Children of Earth. I rarely find these interviews with guest actors very interesting--they always loved doing the show, thought everyone was brilliant, would be stoked to return, etc. Now, if one of them said "I saw John Barrowman doing meth in his trailer while Eve Myles sacrificed goats in a Satanic ritual," then they would be interesting. In other words, supporting actors doing interviews for fan magazines: lie shamelessly! Readers and libel lawyers will thank you . . .

* A really good short story by Trevor Baxendale titled They Keep Killing Andy. PC Andy turns up dead with a knife in his back. Then his body disappears, and a couple of days later the same thing happens. And then again. It's a clever story, slightly marred by an ending that I'm not a 100% sure makes sense, but that's okay.

* The fifth and final installment of the Broken comic strip. It's not great, but it is better than some of the other strips the magazine has run. And, I'm a sucker for a dark ending.

* A short story titled Flotsam and Jetsam by Kate Orman. Giant starfish monsters rampaging through Cardiff? I'd like to visit, but I sure wouldn't want to live there. An interesting supporting character in scientist Morgan Ling--she knows all about Torchwood and doesn't get ret-conned at the end. And speaking of the end, it has a nice non-kill the alien resolution which was a surprise and much appreciated.

* A "Beyond the Hub" feature on fairies. It is interesting that today we think of fairies as very nice, Disney-like figures who are funny and helpful--whereas historically, fairies were baby-stealing monsters responsible for all sorts of foul deeds.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Krevlax Mex, Anx Streetfighter


Krevlax Mex* was the alternate character for the player who runs Marpa/Daal in the Clone Wars campaign. Whereas Marpa/Daal is a very tech-oriented, deliberate character, Krevlax was a rough-and-tumble Anx streetfighter who specialized in unarmed combat and crushing his foes to death in his massive arms (the character had a Strength of 23!). I can't seem to find Krevlax's character background, but his primary motivation was revenge against Purity First, the xenophobic organization that had hunted or enslaved him in the past. He was a very laconic character, and it was therefore hard to get a real sense of his personality or interests.

Krevlax appeared in a couple of story arcs and was well-suited to the story arc which involved trying to overthrow Purity First on the planet Mongui. Krevlax participated in the final battle against Purity First's Grand Inquisitor and succeeded in squeezing his foe to death, but the Anx was killed shortly after when one of the Grand Inquisitor's guards rolled a critical hit with a vibro-bayonet.

* We may have been misspelling and mispronouncing his name the entire campaign, as his character sheet spells it as "Kravlex." Ah well, close enough!

Constructed Reality

I read an excellent article today by Ruthann Robson titled Resisting the Family: Repositioning Lesbians in Legal Theory. The thesis of the article is that lesbians shouldn't be too quick to adopt the rhetoric of "our family is just like yours" because the concept of "family" is a culturally constructed artifact that carries with it particular expectations--in the context of 21st century America, these expectations include monogamy, shared finances, age equivalency, and cohabitation, while excluding polygamy, independent living, age differentials, etc. In other words, the quest to gain legal protections and equality can easily result in lesbians consciously or unconsciously being co-opted into "mainstream" expectations of what their relationships "should" look like.

The article is a great reminder that so much of what we consider reality is in fact culturally constructed: concepts like "family," "adulthood," "marriage" and "gender" may have some empirical correlatives but they can all also be stretched or narrowed depending on culture. Being "feminine" in Victorian England is a very different thing than being "feminine" today, and reaching "adulthood," the "age of majority" or the "age of consent" has not always implied reaching the magical age of 18 years old (despite what most people today tend to assume). The reason this is important is that when people assume that these concepts are "natural" and that "things have always been this way", they refuse to acknowledge the possibility (or desirability) of changing them. Thus, the value of history and anthropology in showing us how things used to be different and the value of science-fiction in helping us imagine how things could be in the future.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Case Law Reporting in Canada

The current chapter of my dissertation has to do with using mainstream newspaper archives to survey the comprehensiveness of case law reporting in Canadian legal history, using blasphemy prosecutions as a test sample. Naturally, this led me to research all sorts of interesting digressions, and today I read Case Law Reporting in Canada by Shirley Lounder, a report published in 1982 by the now-defunct Canadian Law Information Council. It's a really interesting empirical study of how cases were reported and digested in the pre-Internet days. The report is hard to find now (I managed to get a copy through interlibrary loan), but contains some studies that were eye-opening to me, at least.

For example, one study examines the comprehensiveness and accuracy of case law reports and notes a surprising number of instances where the printed reporters simply get things wrong: they misspell party names, put the wrong level of the court, are vague about the date the decision was decided, digest or report a single case multiple times with different and confusing headnotes, etc. In other words, it's easy to assume that case law reporters are pristine incarnations of "the law", when in fact they are very much examples of human endeavours and human fallibility. The fact that most legal researchers, myself included, do our legal research using online databases doesn't lessen the risk of coming across erroneously-reported cases, because the databases themselves were originally formed by converting print cases into digital forms. If a 1972 case says it was decided by the B.C. Court of Appeal when, in fact, it was decided by the B.C. Superior Court, who is going to know differently fifteen or forty years later?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 34

This was an interesting and unusual session. After the very dramatic events of the last story arc, I wanted something that would be a little bit of a "breather" and advance each character's individual storyline. I knew there'd be no way to do this if everyone was sticking together like normal, so I chose something a little bit different that I'd never done before: treat each character separately (jumping between players quickly) and show "flashes in time", with sometimes weeks or months in between scenes. I haven't done it since, but I found it a really effective way to develop plotlines and set up the main theme of the story-arc.

Several important things happened this session which would carry ramifications later on: Doxen's assassination of Harno, Daal's discovery that his parents are still alive and that he was suffering from a terminal disease, Jocasta's purchases from Kordo Deshillich (do my players wonder why she needs 600 crewmen? Nope), and Arresta's continuing triangle between Tarn and Stefan.

After spending most of the previous story-arc concerned with Arresta's quest to find Tarn, I really wanted to spotlight one of the other characters. This is where having each player write a background for their character comes in handy. From A'tel's background, I knew his brother was head of a family-run corporation. Since I had recently read the Han Solo novels and got a taste for the Corporate Sector, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take the characters to a setting that is very different than the norm for Star Wars.

I had great fun describing a place where knowing how to cut through red tape was more important than knowing how to use a blaster, where every available surface is covered in advertising, and where corporate double-speak is the order of the day. I invested in the old WEG d6 Han Solo and the Corporate Sector sourcebook, and it was worth every penny.

Because we knew Arresta was going to be off in the background tending to a newborn, her player created a new character for this story-arc: a member of the Corporate Sector Authority's Auditor General. Emily Prentiss' knowledge of how to navigate CSA bureaucracy was a real boon to the other characters (and made an otherwise obscure skill, Knowledge: Bureaucracy, come in quite handy).

Although it's not really apparent here, another aim of this story arc (and the key reason it has a title capable of two interpretations) is I really wanted to put the WAR! back into Clone War Campaign by having A'tel given command of a Grand Army of the Republic mission to retake a key military asset. I'll talk about how that played out in a couple of sessions, but for now I'll simply say that the battle was epic in scale and something I'm sure won't soon be forgotten by myself or the players.

Update (July 25, 2012):  Added in previously secret brief scene between Arresta and Stefan.


EPISODE 2.9: HOSTILE TAKEOVER

SESSION # 34

558 days have passed by in the blink of an eye, and the galaxy has changed. The Republic has been pushed back on its heels, as a bold attack by General Grievous has left the planet Humbarine completely uninhabitable, the orbital cities of Duros destroyed, and Coruscant in danger for the first time during the war. As the Grand Army of the Republic begins a desperate counter-attack, suspicions begin to percolate about the poor leadership of the Jedi, the connection between the Order and Count Dooku, and the need to centralize authority within the Senate Leadership.

Yet in a galaxy torn by war, one sector of space has reaped enormous profits by selling to both sides: the Corporate Sector, an autonomous collection of thousands of planets ruled and exploited by a massive conglomerate of business interests called The Authority. But the war is spreading and nothing stays untouched for long….


In the council chambers of the Jedi Order, a difficult decision is being made. "Decide we must," Yoda says, "the response from Cestus Cybernetics and its new owners, Cybot Galactica." The Cerean Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, present via hologram, argues against the idea: "That young man, skilled though he may be, is simply not ready for a responsibility of this nature. He'll get himself killed, as well as his men." Master Windu, also there via hologram, believes a family connection may explain Cestus' strange demand. After some back-and-forth, Yoda makes the decision: "Risk angering a major defence contractor we must not; win this war through fear and doubt we cannot; trust in our students we must. A leader of men, this Jedi will become."

[A.G. 872]

Shortly after his capture by Jocasta and his reluctant agreement to join the crew of the Sun Runner II, Daal Mordo is shown to his quarters by his new room-mate – the cybernetically enhanced Rodian assassin Greesh Leedo. Greesh remarks that the Duro's new face is nicer than the last one, but that Jocasta freed Greesh from a Republic detention facility for a reason, and that that reason must have been because she knew Daal would eventually join the crew. "And who better'n your ole Techno-Union buddy Greesh to keep an eye on ya." Daal gives no sign of being intimidated.

It is artificial night aboard the Sun Runner II as A'tel Por’ten sits in the ship’s Medbay with the still-entranced Padawan Tarn Tamarand. Suddenly, A'tel senses great danger approaching and draws his lightsaber. The doors open and Stefan Cassadine casually walks into the room, explaining that he is there to borrow the medical droid. Cassadine takes the opportunity to question the Jedi Knight about the mission that lead A'tel, Daal, Doxen and Arresta to Endregaad. Specifically, he wants to know under whose initiative the team set off after Tamarand. A'tel attempts to cover for Arresta, by suggesting that the group came across Tarn accidentally while searching for Mika the Hutt, but Cassadine clearly does not believe him. As A'tel stands protectively in front of Tarn, Cassadine remarks it would be better for the entranced Jedi if he never woke up.

Meanwhile, Doxen, who is enjoying a drink in the ship’s lounge, is approached by Kronos, the slightly chubby member of Jocasta's crew who seems to display some strange ability to predict the future. Kronos explains that he is there on behalf of Mistress Jocasta--she has taken note of Doxen’s skills and would like to offer him a place with the crew. Kronos says that in “4 of 9 divergencies, you accept the offer.” After a barrage of questions around the scope and financial promise of the opportunity (1000 credits stipend per month, an equal share of profits), Doxen indicates his interest but states that he must complete his current mission (returning Tarn to the Jedi Temple) before taking on a new assignment. Kronos provides him with a communications frequency so that he can rejoin the crew at a later date.

Arresta Cassadine is alone in her husband’s cabin when her Aqualish bodyguard Xam indicates that she has a visitor. Jocasta has come to speak to Arresta alone, which she notes has not been easy to do. Arresta is surprised to learn that A'tel has made arrangements for Jocasta to offer protection to the Princess and her unborn baby. Jocasta offers her a rare silver bracelet of Arkanian design, which, when activated, will supposedly alert help and keep the wearer safe for a limited time. Jocasta also tells Arresta that she and Stefan have become business partners, which is how Stefan came to be on board this ship.

After about half a day in orbit around Endregaad, the Sun Runner II is joined by Stefan Cassadine's yacht, The Knife's Edge. Arresta, A'tel, Doxen, and Tarn transfer over, leaving Daal to his fate.

[A.G. 875]

Once the rest of his companions have transferred to the other ship, Daal is left alone with his new crew. Quickly though, some of these new crew mates begin to fall ill and the source of the outbreak is quickly traced back to Daal. A top-of-the-line GH-7 medical droid is able to treat the sick crew members and contain the contagion, but it breaks the news to the Duro that he has rapidly mutating cancerous cells throughout this throat, esophagus, and stomach. The GH-7 states that the malignant tumours are unresponsive to bacta and calculates that Daal has a 75% chance to live between six months and a year before telling him to have "a nice day."

[A.G. 876]

On board The Knife’s Edge, further separations are taking place. The ship has docked with a passenger liner bound for Coruscant and A'tel, Doxen and Tarn are being transferred aboard. To Arresta’s surprise, Stefan suggests that she say good-bye to her friends since it is likely that “their paths will never cross again.” Keenly aware of her husband’s mood, Arresta says her farewells to A'tel and Doxen while attempting to appear indifferent to Tarn. However, as she turns to go, the seemingly fully-entranced Padawan suddenly grips her arm as though preventing their parting. Shocked and thrilled, Arresta refuses to pull away from him, even though he gives no other sign of being awake. Stefan is enraged and draws a knife. With A'tel and Doxen intervening, eventually Arresta allows herself to be separated from Tarn. As the airlock closes, Stefan calls out to them that if he ever sees Tarn again he will kill him, before dragging his wife down the corridor. He presses her against the wall, promising her that she has seen Tarn Tamarand for the last time.

[A.G. 880]

As the Sun Runner II makes an atmospheric plunge into the stormy planet Etti IV in the Corporate Sector, Daal is informed by Greesh Leedo that the Rodian has supposedly infected him with nano-vermin that can be triggered if the Duro attempts an escape. Daal remains cool in the face of danger and instead focuses on learning more about his situation. The Sun Runner II sets down on a landing pad atop a round, four-story building in the middle of a large industrial research park on the outskirts of Etti IV’s capital city, Mondder. A turbolift leads Daal, Jocasta, and Greesh into a first floor atrium, where the trio receives applause from several dozen jumpsuited technicians. Jocasta holds up her hands to silence the crowd and says "We now have everything we need--meet with your group leader and let's get to work!" She hands the oddly-hilted lightsaber to Greesh, telling him to take it to the Kaminoan Gemma Vous in Genetics to crack it open and clone what's inside before moving on to lead the Cybernetics team. Daal is assigned to head the Comp. Sci group in lab 4 and is tasked with isolating and analyzing any readings of the anomaly contained within the head of 8P-MD-4.

[A.G. 881]

Arriving at Coruscant, A'tel is taken into custody by planetary defence guards suspicious of his claim to be a returning Jedi Knight. Leaving Tarn in Doxen’s custody, he is taken to a holding cell where he waits until a scarred Jedi named Tholme comes to question him. After a barrage of questions, A’tel is welcomed home.

Meanwhile, Doxen is considered an unlikely nurse for an injured man by the guards, but he is able to use a mysterious document to keep them at bay. Doxen contacts his old friend Senator Orelus, who arranges a meeting at a cantina far from the Senate Building. The Senator has risen in power to Chair the powerful Appropriations Committee and reluctantly tells Doxen he must avoid being seen with non-humans given the current political climate. Doxen returns Tarn to the Jedi Temple, sends a package to Melosia, and heads off to join Jocasta’s crew. First though, he secures a promise from her to help him track down the bounty hunter Harno, whom he has long been seeking.

[A.G. 909]

The Knife’s Edge spends several weeks travelling on a course known only to Stefan Cassadine. Arresta finds that his mood is as black as she has ever seen it. He seldom comes to bed – instead sitting up by himself in his study, drinking a pale caramel-colored liquor and starting at the stars. He has the crew on edge and Xam finally comes to Arresta and asks her to try to intercede. The Princess tries to talk to her husband, but he is still very bitter and she makes little progress. Finally, they arrive at the planet Rhinnal, known for having the finest doctors and medical facilities anywhere in the galaxy. The Knife's Edge sets down at a beautiful gated villa outside the capital city Rhire. Arresta walks down the landing ramp only to find her estranged sister Corinne waiting for her. "Isn't this a lovely family reunion?" Corrinne says with a smirk. After everything that's happened over the past months, the stress is too much and the Princess goes into premature labour. She collapses, and the last face that she envisions before she blacks out is not that of her husband . . .

At about the same time, but at the other end of the galaxy, Doxen, Jocasta, and the Gamorrean Koloth have arrived on Nal Hutta at the estate of a Hutt Lord named Kordo Deshilich, a major purveyor of slaves throughout the Sector. Kordo's reception hall is a combination zoo (full of rare creatures from around the galaxy) and prison (where he can humiliate sentient beings who have angered him over the years). Kordo himself slumbers behind a thick transparisteel shield, but Jocasta negotiates with Kordo's majordomo, a Toydarian named Rizzle Snoot. Jocasta and Snoot close a deal that will provide the corsair with almost six hundred slaves taken from a damaged Republic cruiser that had limped into Hutt space after a major engagement with a Separatist fleet. She also purchases two particular middle-aged Duros, a male and a female. Doxen bides his time patiently, having been assured by Jocasta that once business is completed, he'll be free to achieve his purpose in coming there: killing the notorious Rodian Harno, a being responsible for killing and enslaving several of Doxen's species. Doxen takes up a sniping position hidden high up in a building, waiting for Harno to show. When the completely unaware Rodian heads for a nearby groundcar, Doxen lets loose with a tight burst of shots from his high-powered blaster rifle. Harno never has a chance and vengeance is served.

[A.G. 960]

A'tel has been assigned to oversee an AgriCorps research lab on the lush planet Chandrilla. The work is neither challenging nor exciting, and is clear evidence that in this time of war, A'tel does not have the full trust of the Order. Still, good news has filtered down from the battle front: Palpatine has folded all planetary defence units into the Republic military, Separatist leaders like Durge and Asajj Ventress have been defeated, the Republic has retaken a devastated Duros, and a new series of sieges on the Outer Rim have been launched to drive the Separatists out of Republic territory entirely. The days pass uneventfully until from out of the blue a G.A.R. shuttle lands and a pair of Clone Troopers arrive with new orders for him. Young Jedi Knight A'tel Por'ten is suddenly the acting commander of Company D of the 173rd Mixed Light Expeditionary Battalion, currently stationed aboard the Majestic pending deployment to a classified combat zone.

Meanwhile, Daal’s work on Etti IV has progressed at a brisk pace and now it's up to a massive mainframe computer in the basement of the research facility to make sense of the data the Duros pulled from 8P's head. One afternoon, Jocasta comes to Daal with a strange announcement. She claims his debt is paid and he is free to go, although she does have another task that she thinks he would find interesting in the near future and he is welcome to stay on at the facility. She also mentions that, according to her sources, some of Daal's old friends are scheduled to arrive on Etti IV in a few days time and that she can notify him where they‘ll be. As a “reward” for prompt work, she reunites him with his presumed dead father (one half of the Duros couple she liberated from Nal Hutta). The reunion between Daal and his father is strained, as the son has had major facial reconstruction and no longer looks as his father would expect, while the father is cause for caution and suspicion on the part of Daal. Daal’s father claims that Daal’s mother has also been rescued but that the two of them were separated on arrival. Jocasta hints that Daal's mother will be freed if Daal undertakes that "one last little job" she wants him to do sometime in the future.

On board the parked Sun Runner II, Doxen receives word from Senator Orelius that Harno has been found dead and there are no leads on his killer. The Senator informs Doxen that his former companion A'tel has received a new, difficult assignment with the military and suggests that the Jedi's chances of surviving his mission would greatly increased with Doxen's presence. Doxen agrees to help, though somewhat reluctantly when he learns he'll formally be considered A'tel's subordinate. He secures a leave of absence from Jocasta, arranges to have equipment waiting for him, and sets off for the Republic starship Majestic aboard a hired tramp freighter.

On the planet Rhinnal, Stefan and Arresta Cassadine have welcomed a healthy baby girl that they have named Allegra Cassadine. Arresta independently chooses two middle names “Julietta Maranda” for her daughter, which only exacerbates the tension between herself and her husband. Stefan is a doting father to the little girl, but remains cold towards his wife. He refuses to tell her why her sister is present, beyond that it is “just business.” Arresta and Corinne argue about the latter’s plans to return to power on Mongui, with Arresta declaring that her sister is as misguided as their late father was.

Arresta receives a strange visit from her former Republic Intelligence handler, Agent 2719. He states that RI never received a report on what Arresta and her companions found in Sector Zeta-11, and are suspicious that shortly after their return a Separatist bounty was issued on her head and then suddenly cancelled. Arresta prevaricates and says nothing of interest was found in the sector. Agent 2719 is clearly unhappy with Arresta's poor performance, but tells her that her assistance is requested by someone in the G.A.R. to help her travelling companion Atel Por’ten, with his latest assignment. Arresta rebukes the contact for his rudeness and demands that he leave. Although she agrees to consider his request, she realizes that she cannot her leave her daughter behind--and that Stefan would have an extreme reaction if she disappeared again. She goes to Stefan and tells him of the offer and her decision not to go. They have another fight about why she followed Tarn to Endregaad. With Stefan furiously pledging to murder Tarn if he ever interferes in their lives again, Arresta finally promises him that she'll never seen the young Jedi again. Later, she sends A'tel baby pictures and a good luck message.


Arresta comes to the conclusion that the only way to keep the people she loves (Allegra, Tarn and Stefan) safe, sane and alive, is to focus on building a life with her husband. Later that night, Arresta visits Stefan in his study in an attempt to mend fences by promising that she will not disappear again. Stefan presses her to admit that her affair with Tarn was more than a fling – that she had fallen in love with the Jedi. Reluctantly, Arresta admits the truth, but pledges that she still loves her husband. Stefan appears to believe her. He takes her to bed and they reconcile.


[A.G. 964]

At co-ordinates not far from the Corporate Sector, General Atel Por’ten arrives at the Majestic, flagship of the G.A.R. Meridian Fleet. He learns that the newly-formed Company D of the 173rd contains three platoons of specially-trained zero-G and light-G Clone Troopers and a platoon of conscripts from the light grav world of Ord Pardron. For armour support, the company boasts two light-G modified walkers (an AT-AP for artillery support and a new AT-AT for ground support), two 74-Z speederbikes, and an Infantry Support Platform, all transported to battle sites by a CR-25 dropship. For reconnaissance and fire-spotting, the company has been detailed a Null ARC named Aaray. Finally, two detached Republic operatives have been temporarily assigned: Doxen and an Anx named Krevlax. As everyone waits for the mission briefing to begin, A'tel speaks with Emily Prentiss, Associate Auditor General (at large), who has been assigned as his liason from the CSA.

A stern, middle-aged man in a hoverchair enters the briefing room and every soldier in the room stands at attention. Admiral Pervaeus Flynn orders them to be at ease and then explains the unusual circumstances that led to A‘tel being given command of Company D: the Separatists have taken control of the Joriander Beacon, the only way of obtaining safe passage through the Joriander Asteroid Field, a key strategic bottleneck to important Outer Rim planets. In the past, the Beacon’s corporate owner (Cestus Cybernetics) had charged both the Republic and the Separatists to use the beacon; but with the Separatists in control, there’s no way Republic fleets can navigate the dense asteroid field. However, Cestus and its new parent company (Cybot Galactica) has threatened to cut off war material from the Republic if it sets foot on the Beacon without permission. Cestus/Cybot have steadfastly asserted that they’ll only divulge the exact coordinates of the Beacon and give permission for a Republic landing if A’tel Por’ten leads the negotiating and assault teams.

During their time on board the Majestic, it has become clear to everyone involved with Company D that the platoon of conscripts from the former Ord Pardron Home Guard are frustrated and anxious about being led into battle by an untested Jedi. After their concerns are rebuffed during the mission briefing, the conscripts barricade themselves in a vehicle depot and demand return to Ord Pardron. A tense standoff leads to a military policemen being wounded until A’tel walks in, unarmed, to negotiate as Doxen sneaks through air vents to get the conscripts’ leader (Lt. Maru) in his sights. Fortunately, A’tel manages to get Maru to back down without further bloodshed by promising her second in command of the Company and a guarantee that her platoon will be used to secure the dropsite during the assault on the Joriander Beacon.

Hours later, Atel, Doxen, Ms. Prentiss, and Aaray depart on a small shuttle for Etti IV, capital of the Corporate Sector, leaving the Majestic behind to get into position and plan for an assault on the Beacon. Even though Ms. Prentiss has informed the others that the Authority has a strict no-weapons policy, each of the men conceals weaponry on his person.

[A.G. 965]

The trip through hyperspace proceeds quickly. When the small shuttle arrives in orbit around Etti IV, landing and customs protocols seem long and complex, but otherwise uneventful until the group enters a robo-hack outside their spaceport, Monnder Central Dis/Embarx. Security sensors inside the taxi detects weapons present, which causes the robo-hack droid brain to engage brakes and doorlocks while summoning local police officers known as “Espos.” The Espos are bullying and aggressive and a fight almost breaks out, but the timely intervention of Ms. Prentiss and her extensive knowledge of CSA regulations prevents the group from being taken into custody. Aaray’s wristblade is seized, but A’tel’s lightsaber is allowed to remain in Ms. Prentiss’s personal custody.

The journey through Monnder is eye-opening, even to those used to the urban density of Coruscant. The humid, stormy skies of Etti IV are almost completely blocked by garish advertising in every conceivable direction. The robohack passes by massive skyscrapers (many of them galactic headquarters for corporations), elaborate themed hotels for the Sector’s wealthy, and family-friendly tourist destinations full of animated, larger-than-life characters. Billboards welcoming newcomers assert that there is no crime, no pollution, and no poverty in the Corporate Sector.

In the center of the city, the robohack pulls up in front of the headquarters of Cybot Galactica, an imposing transparisteel structure that seems to weave itself into the sky. On the front steps, A’tel and Doxen spot a familiar face: Daal is waiting for them on the steps and arranges to have dinner with them later. Inside, the group is forced to fill out elaborate paperwork in order to gain entry. The secretary “accidentally” gives A’tel the wrong form to fill out, but Ms. Prentiss notices in time. Doxen realizes there are surveillance devices covering every inch of the waiting room. After getting their paperwork in order, an elegant, panelled turbolift whisks everyone up to the penthouse floor. There, in an elegant and tasteful boardroom, the XO of Cestus Cybernetics and Licensing Viceprex of Cybot Galactica sits at the head of a long table: Garit Por’ten, A’tel’s brother.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Five Things to Say to Your DM

Several weeks ago I read Five Things You Should Never Say to Your DM, which got me thinking recently about what you should say to your role-playing game director. So without further ado, here's:

Five Things to Say to Your DM

1. Thank you.

It sounds simple, but it's something players often forget. While players simply get to show up and play, with no gaming-related stress between sessions, many DMs spend hours and hours prepping for the games. If combat is too easy or too hard, if the story-line seems cliched or predictable, if personalities clash, it's usually the DM who is stuck with the responsibility of fixing things. A simple thank you is a nice way for the players to acknowledge the DM's sacrifice of time and additional stress.

2. I really liked that NPC/plot twist/game mechanic you came up with.

Some DMs simply run stuff from modules and that can be fun, but the best ones go the extra mile to customize the game for the players by creating interesting and original elements. The best incentive for a DM to keep doing this is for players to notice and compliment him or her on the creations that really add something to the game.

3. If you ever need a break, I'm happy to direct a session.

Believe it or not, DMs are people too and also have family, work, and other stressors to deal with. Sometimes everything happens at once and it's important for the DM to be able to hand off a session occasionally to someone else, who'll take on the task without grumbling. Another advantage of saying this to your DM is that he or she will get a chance to see the campaign from the player's perspective (which can be quite eye-opening) and have a little extra time to prepare the next adventure.

4. What can I do to make the campaign better?

DMs really appreciate it when players are willing to commit a little extra effort in order to make the game more exciting, deeper in background, or simply to run smoother. This is also a great question to ask because it provides the DM with a non-confrontational way to let you know if you're doing something a bit annoying, like dominating role-playing time, min-maxing characters, fudging dice, etc.

5. I was thinking about the campaign between sessions, and I realized . . .

The best way to show your appreciation to the DM is to really engage with the story he or she is trying to tell. If there's a mystery, think about the clues the DM has given you; if there's political intrigue, think about how to manipulate the people involved; if there's an important scene or dramatic event coming up in the next session, prepare how you're going to deal with it.
If you show up to every session barely remembering what happened before, caring little about the setting or NPCs, and trying to hurry or force your way through anything non-combat related, you might as well be playing a computer game.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

L'enfant des ombres


The most striking thing to me about Moka's L'enfant des ombres ("Child of Shadows") is the cover: it's a beautiful piece of art, that perfectly encapsulates a gothic sense of the uncanny in the midst of innocence. The artist, Istvan Sandorfi, has done some other really interesting paintings.
The book itself is mildly interesting. It takes place at an orphanage, where the adolescent boys and girls are kept in separate dormitories and only meet for classes. Two of the boys and three of the girls decide to form a "secret club", which involves sneaking out of their dorms every night to explore the orphanage's strange attic. Soon after they start meeting, a series of accidental (?) deaths start to take place in the orphanage and shadowy figures are seen by one of the girls, but no one believes her. The series of unexplained phenomena culminates in a (surprisingly grisly) showdown between the orphans and the mysterious creatures haunting the place.
All the ingredients are there for a sense of foreboding and dread, but for some reason the characters and the story just didn't really click with me. I think if it would have been a little bit longer (it's only 200 pages) with a more complex plot (there's some stuff about Celts and ley-lines, but not really fleshed out), it would have been a really intriguing story. On the other hand, it is a book meant for teenagers so I shouldn't necessarily have adult literary expectations.
Next: Isaac Asmiov's Le club des veufs noirs ("The Black Widowers Club")

Clone Wars Campaign: Korriban Adi, Adventurer-Archaeologist


Maj ("Korriban") Adi is a Cerean character I created to play when one of the other players in the Clone Wars campaign decided to direct a session. I was having a tough time coming up with a character concept, until I was told that the character would start the session having recently lost a valuable artificat. Neurons made connections, and I modelled Korriban Adi on Indiana Jones, complete with (shock) whip and (blaster) pistol. I gave him 7 levels in Noble to represent his academic training and 6 levels in Scout to represent his adventuring in lost desert tombs, but I was surprised (and disappointed) to realize just how few Saga Edition talents and feats are applicable to non-combat situations. Anyway, I had a lot of fun playing him during the one shot and, as a PC or an NPC, I'd like to see him in a return appearance.