Monday, April 17, 2017

The RPG Character Library: Metamorphosis Alpha

I've always been a fan of the genre in which an apocalypse turns a far-future society into post-apocalyptic fantasy. There's just something about it that seems really cool and interesting. I had high hopes that the Covenant LARP (a game explicitly set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world) would turn into Gamma World. Or, at least, Metamorphosis Alpha.

You've been on a giant worldship this entire time. Oh, and you're going to crash into a star. Good luck!

Oh, and it's written by Drawmij himself. So that's nice. I wonder if he can make the game rules appear in his hand as a free action?

It turns out that what one might think one wants can easily turn out to be something that one doesn't really want at all, and that, as it happens, is the case with Metamorphosis Alpha. I think I like the idea of this game much better than it's execution. I feel like if I were to do this sort of a game, my emphasis would be focused more on the culture, society, and world inside the ship and have much less to do with all of the cool ray guns and robots located on the storage levels.

I will say though that, in the game's defense, it was made in 1976, where the focus on games was quite a bit different than it is now. It's forgivable, but I don't think I could run this game without significant rewriting.

It also doesn't help that the rules feel more than a little bit slapdash (the errata in the back doesn't help). There's not a lot of them, but I definitely get the feeling that some of them are missing somewhere. It doesn't help that the book's layout is crude and kind of all over the place.

Still, I was able to make a pretty interesting character. Here's how I did that.

As per usual, I went in with no preconceived notions. There are six stats (Radiation Resistance, Mental Resistance, Dexterity, Constitution, Strength, and Leadership Potential). Frustratingly, the list of stats is given in that order, but the paragraphs describing the stats are arranged in a different order. Oh well.

I learn right off the bat that True Humans get all six stats, while Mutants of varying stripes only get the first five. I think making True Humans the only charismatic people in the game is one of the ways that they balance the fact that humans don't get awesome powers, but it still feels like not quite enough of a boost.

I decide that I will be a mutant, because that sounds fun. I do the roll and place in order, giving me an average character who is very clumsy and who has an almost statistically significant Constitution. I'm not getting much from these stats, but there's still more to do.

I should probably explain the stats at this point, as well as how secondary stats are derived from them, since they're somewhat unique among RPGs.

Radiation Resistance is the likelihood that I will resist dangerous radiation. A failure means that I will either die horribly or mutate.

Mental Resistance is my chance to avoid psychic attacks and mental mutations. Unlike the other stats, it is strengthened by use, provided I survive an attack that harms me.

Dexterity determines when I act in combat. So I'm not necessarily clumsy, but I am slow as balls. Interestingly, my Dex doesn't seem to impact my movement speed at all, from what I can tell.

Strength indicates whether and if I do any extra damage in combat. I don't.

Constitution determines the number of hit points I have and how likely I am to be poisoned. Since I have a Con of 11, I get to roll 11d6 to calculate my hit points. I roll reasonably well and get 45.

Because I am a mutant, I am allowed to have mutant powers. I get to roll 1d4 to determine how many physical mutations I have. Then I get to roll 1d4 again to determine how many mental mutations I have. It also says that my mutations are hand-picked by me, and not randomly rolled. Considering that there is quite a wide power range between powers (for instance, one of them allows me to control time or set up an aura of death around my body), this seems unwise. On the other hand, it's much easier to build the character you want.

The GM then gives me a physical or mental defect, so that I do not become god upon the Warden. If I have five or more mutations, I get both a physical and a mental defect.

I rolleth forth my d4s and get 3 physical mutations and 2 mental mutations. Since I have five total, I get two defects. Fun!

Here's the point where my character starts to gel. I decided that I would not game the system, instead choosing powers based on a core concept. I am given further guidance by the rulebook telling me that all mutants start in the forest level of the ship with no equipment.

Okay. So what do we have so far? A slow-moving, reasonably tough, arboreal mutant. Let's see if I can pick things to complement this.

Heightened Dexterity: Despite the name, this does not improve my Dexterity in any way. My AC is 1 (equivalent to the best armor listed in the game), as long as I am not encumbered. Since no one plays by the encumbrance rules anyway, I should be fine.

Physical Reflection: My skin reflects one type of damage away from my body in a random direction. One of the damage types listed is Radiation, so I'm going to powergame the shit out of this and choose that one.

Quills: I grow quills along my arms and legs. Anyone grabbing me takes dagger damage. I can also throw them 1-10 feet away from me.

Heightened Intelligence: Unlike Heightened Dexterity, this actually does modify my intelligence. I need it if I'm going to be a mutated plant or animal to have human-like intelligence, and I have to take it if I rolled a 4 on mental mutations. Since no Geoff character is complete without improved intelligence, I decided to purchase it despite neither of those things being true. It adds +4 to my Mental Resistance (to a max of 18) and allows me a better chance to operate devices found on the ship.

Intuition: Taking a page from the Jewel songbook, I have grabbed this mutation. It gives me limited precognition, which translates to a +1 to hit, +3 damage, and am never surprised. The power notes that it cannot work if any of my other powers are active, but, since my other powers are either passives or automatic, I don't think I need to worry about that.

I tried to pick defects that would make sense for my character, learning later that the GM could simply roll randomly and assign the defects to me. The defect tables don't make it obvious that a random roll is allowed (there's 6 physical and 10 mental defects, but the chart lists all the mutations in a group in order from 1-47, so you won't notice it unless you count). I managed not to cheese it, or hurt my character too badly, and picked the following.

Skin Structure Change: My skin has been altered significantly. The examples that are given are scales that reduce my movement (but not my Dexterity) and that I cannot bear heat above 76 degrees F. I decide to reverse the second one, taking one die of damage per hour if I am stuck in temperatures of 40 degrees or lower. I don't know if that's cheesy or not, but the book doesn't give much in the way of boundaries or examples.

Fear Impulse: I am afraid of certain objects or animals. I can't look at the thing (whatever it is) without feeling total fear and running away from it. Since I'm little more than a forest creature at this point, I decide that I have a fear impulse to "Uncontrolled Fires." Campfires will make me nervous. Forest fires will make me run screaming.

Since I don't have any equipment, I can safely ignore the majority of the equipment section. However, I do need to figure out how to calculate damage for my quills. Metamorphosis Alpha has an interesting way of doing this: Armor has a Class rating (which, I think, is different from AC), and weapons also have a Class rating. The higher the class of weapon, the better damage it does against armored opponents.

I thought this would be more descriptive. Like I have an Organic Dagger, which might be pretty good, but a Plasma Dagger would be way better. I'm going to have to wait a few decades to get something like that, though, because the determination of Class is a bit more byzantine and less free-form than that. I do find out that daggers of any type are a Class 3 weapon and do 1d4 damage against opponents.

Nav the Arboreal Mutant
Radiation Resistance:  9
Mental Resistance: 9 +4 = 13
Dexterity: 4
Constitution:11
Strength: 9

AC: 1
HP: 45

Physical Mutations: Heightened Dexterity, Physical Reflection (Radiation), Quills
Mental Mutations: Heightened Intelligence, Intuition (Follow Your Heaaaart)

Physical Defect: Skin Structure Change (Take 1d6 Damage/Hour at 40 F or Less)
Mental Defect: Fear Impulse (Uncontrolled Fires)

Equipstuff: None

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The RPG Character Library: Powers & Perils

Spoilers for the following post: Remember how much trouble I had with FASA Star Trek? This game was at least an order of magnitude worse. This game broke me. I didn't finish character creation.

Powers & Perils is a game by Avalon Hill. It reads like a tax form. I would imagine that you could create very diverse, unique characters with this game, but the granularity that the average player is faced with in order to actually make a character is (at least for me) too steep a price to play. I've played Rolemaster games that were easier to understand than this.

It starts off innocently enough. There are ten characteristics (Strength, Stamina, Dexterity, Agility, Intelligence, Will, Eloquence, Empathy, Constitution, and Appearance). I roll 2d10 for each one. Fine so far. Then the book tells me:

Native Ability, for each modifiable characteristic, is determined using the procedure below (See 1.111 to determine Constitution and Appearance).

What?

After looking back and forth between tables, I realize that I'm supposed to select my race and gender and then add (or subtract) a modifier to my base rolls. At least, I'm supposed to do that for all but Constitution and Appearance, whose modifiers are calculated differently.

I look over the races and decide that I'm going to play a fairy (or, in this case, "Faerry") lady, because that's different. I note that the usual 1980s canard of female characters being physically weaker, but much wiser and more agile, than male characters is in play here. I also note that the lowest any of my attributes can be is 1, which is good, because Strength and Stamina modifiers for faerrys are pretty hefty.

For no reason I can determine, my Constitution and Appearance modifiers are figured out by rolling a d10 for each and looking at the specific table. Both modifiers are listed on the table, with App in parentheses and the Con one is not. I managed to max out on Appearance (x8!) so this character is even sexier than the last.

Welcome to the game grid, insanely hot, albeit tiny, lady!

The book then tells me that all of the stats apart from Constitution and Appearance can be improved during the course of play. I guess no one in the P&P universe has heard of marathon training, designer clothes, or fleek eyebrows.

Now, the book tells me that I have to determine my maximum ability. This takes me several attempts before I mostly understand it. The gist of it is this: I roll 2d6+14. This gives me the total number of multipliers that I can apply to every stat except for Constitution and Appearance. The minimum modifier I can apply to a stat is 1.5, while the highest is 4. The book tells me that I need to assign multipliers in either whole or half numbers or the whole system collapses. I roll and get a total of 21. I do some more math.

After that, I get to roll randomly to determine my Age and my Station. There's a note that says that non-humans (like smoking hot faerry ladies) spend most of their lives in the Lower World before joining the humans in the Middle World for ADVENTURE! I don't know what this means, but I guess time flows differently in different places? 

I learn that I am 23 and come from Station 3. The book gives me a list of occupations to choose from, so I pick Noted Scholar. My Coin Type for my station is 2SC. This means something. I'll get to it in a minute.

Because the game goes on to say that I don't pop out of the womb (or hatch from a cocoon, or whatever) ready for adventure. I must have lived life a little bit before I had gotten to this point. As a result, I get to roll (Age x 2) + Station + 2d10. I find the total on yet another chart and that gives me my Character Points, Experience Points, and Expertise Points.

I roll a 62. The chart only goes up to 30. Buh?

Closer reading reveals to me that I should not use this rule if I used the Maximum Ability rules, which I did. If I did that, I need to take 25% of my roll result. Instead of looking things up on a chart, I take the new total as a pool of points that I get to spend on everything but Character Points. At least 5 points must be assigned to each area.

I have 16 points, which I split as evenly as possible. Then I take an Advil.

Next, I encountered the Special Events table. This table is optional, but, I figure, why not use it? I roll percentile dice for every ten years I've lived (rounded down). I get a Nothing result on my first roll, but on my second one I get Supernatural Stamina. The only thing that would have been better would have been for me to get Supernatural Strength. This ability boosts my Stamina by 1d6x5 points, to a minimum of 25. I roll a 2. I add 25.

There is a chart full of bonuses on various sub-stats based on the base stat. I am already tired, so I have mostly skipped these, other than to add in any appropriate bonuses. Then I move on to Other Factors...God, this is taking forever!

My Hit Points is equal to (Strength + Stamina + Constitution) / 4 (round up).

My Offensive Combat Value is equal to CEL + SB + StB. Wait. WAIT! What are those?

My Defensive Combat Value is equal to CEL + AB + DB. WHAT?!?! What are those? I'm confused!

I decide to sit in the dark for a while and listen to the blood rushing in my ears. Once I've calmed down some, I go back through the rulebook for some hints. CEL is my Character Experience Level, which is something I would have gotten if I had rolled on the chart (but I didn't roll on that chart, because I rolled on a different chart first). I'm assuming that my Character Experience Level is 0. Then, after a lot of scrutinizing, I realize that all of the other stuff is abbreviations for: Strength Bonus; Stamina Bonus; Agility Bonus; and Dexterity Bonus. 

Ah, it's all so clear to me now! Whew! I'm feeling like I'm in the home stretch.

But wait! Now there are derived sub-stats, including Portage Ability, Healing Chance, how attractive you are to members of other races based on your race, and...you know what? No. Moving on!

Height and Weight are, of course, randomly rolled. For Height. I add my Native Strength to my Native Stamina plus my racial number (which is 28). I learn that I am 17 inches tall. Concentrated hotness.

My Weight is derived from my Height. I roll 1d10 and consult yet another table. I rolled a 2 and, according to the table, Faerry ladies have a weight of 1.2. I multiply this by 17 to get a total weight of 20.4 pounds. That seems...wonky? 

Right. What's next? Food Requirements? The minimal amount of nutrition I need in a day to remain alive? Okay. I'm going out for a walk.

*several days later*

I'm back! Where were we? Oh yes! Food Requirements is listed in Food Points. You determine your FP based on your weight. Since I'm less than 100 pounds, I need half a FP per day. Since I'm also a Faerry, this is reduced by a further half, so I need a quarter of a FP per day. I am told that I will eventually starve if I get less than this in a day. I am also told I can eat three times as much per day, if I need to. So I can enter the local Sidh Hot Dog-Eating Contest, I guess?

We have to be done, right? Wrong. There's so many other things to figure out. Liiiike:

Movement Rate is a straight number based on race: 6 inches for walking,  27 inches when flying. No, I'm wrong. I add my AB (Agility Bonus) to walking speed and DB (Dexterity Bonus) to my flying speed. 9" and 31". 

Influence is my chance to influence other people and is equal to my Eloquence + Empathy. There's a pile of modifiers for this, but I'm tired. Just trust me when I tell you that my base chance is 69.

There's healing rules but la la la I don't care!

Now we start to get into Skills with Common Knowledge. These are things that I get because of my race and class. If I were a human, I would get to pick from one of two lists, Barbarian and Civilized. Faerrys only get one list. It's long. It's listed with my character below. The big thing is that the game talks a lot about MEL and EL. I didn't know what these were for a long time. It turns out they're explained in the next section. They stand for Maximum Experience Level and Experience Level. 

Okay! Now I get to purchase skills that my character has learned over the course of her training and wanderings. I have 105 Expertise Points (from a previous table) to spend on skills. I assume that each skill costs a certain amount and...

No.

Oh god. No.

I can't. I can't even.

It starts off by explaining things that I didn't understand from the previous section, notably that all skills are increased in Experience Levels, which cost a certain number of Expertise Points, up to the cap that is the Maximum Experience Level, which is based on your stats.

That's bad enough, but each skill costs a variable amount of points to learn and a variable amount of points to level up. The MEL for each skill is calculated using a complicated formula that is, again, different for each skill. Let me give you an example.

Say I want to buy the Axe skill. It costs me 18 EP to learn at Level 1. Each increase costs 6 x the new EL (12 for 2, 18 for 3, and so on). The maximum level is equal to (Strength + Stamina) / 10. My character can have an Axe MEL of 3.

Now, let's say I want to buy the Rhetoric skill. It costs me 30 EP to learn at Level 1. Each increase costs an amount of EP equal to the new EL squared (4 for 2, 9 for 3, and so on). It's maximum level is (Will + Eloquence + Empathy)/15. My character can have a Rhetoric MEL of 8.

And that's when I decided I was done. Here's my character so far.

Oh! And one of the charts determines my base wealth, which is multiplied by the coin type of my Station to determine my starting money. Almost forgot!

Myrradin the Very Pretty, Albeit Unfinished, Faerry Scholar and Sorceress


Roll
Native
Multiplier
Total
Bonus
Strength
7
-6

1
-1
Stamina
8
-3
+10 (25)
25
+1
Dexterity
10
+3
x4
52
+3
Agility
9
+3
x3
36
+2
Intelligence
15
+2
x4
68
+3
Will
8
+3
x4
44
+2
Eloquence
13
+2
x3
45
+2
Empathy
6
+2
x3
24
+1
Const
9
-2
x2
14
+0
Appear
11
+4
x8
120
+5

Age: 23
Station:  3, Coin Type 2SC, Noted Scholar
Initial Increases: 16

Experience Points:  6 25 (Level 0)
Expertise Points: 105
Wealth: 25 (multiplied by coin type from Station) = 50 SC
Special Event: 13-None; 77-Special Attribute – Stamina
Hit Points: 10
Offensive Combat Value: 0
Defensive Combat Value: 5
Height/Weight: 17”, 20.4 lb.
Food Requirements: ¼ FP
Movement: 9”/31”
Influence: 69

Abilities
Learn new languages at half cost.
Mana Sensing and Mana Reading (MEL and EL determined by character)
Speak: Faerry EL 80, Elf EL 80, Human EL 60, Sidh EL 80 if magic-user
I have wings and can fly.
I can enter the Lower World (MEL and EL determined by character)
I have the maximum EL in either Forest or Swamp Survival.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Chaos Eclipse: Part Three

The third and final installment of the Twilight/Beautiful Creatures/NCAA 2017 fanfic requested by Meg.

This was fun! Hooray!



            It was Edward's hardest basketball game ever, and, in a way, it was also the most fun.
            He had no idea what the crowd, or what the people watching the game at home on TV, were seeing, but he guessed it wasn’t anything like what was actually happening. They’d be stampeding or screaming or…calling their congressman, maybe? Did people still do that?
            No time to think about that; he needed to concentrate. Lena matched him in speed, somehow, seemingly everywhere at once all the time. It took all of his hunting skill to keep up with her, shadowing her so that she couldn’t get near the basket or pass to her open teammates. By midway through the first half, he realized he was playing a game within a game. Cut off from his teammates, focused entirely on the Caster, he gave everything he had to make sure that her blatant cheating didn’t cause a blowout.
            He was used to going up against other vampires and their weird powers, as well as the occasional werewolf, but he always had the benefit of his telepathy. Lena was blocking him somehow. Like Bella, she was inscrutable. Unlike Bella, she was clearly enjoying herself. She faked him out more times than he cared to admit, dribbled circles around him, stepped in just the right way so that he collided with her, causing him to both fall and foul. And colliding with her hurt. His skin was supposedly diamond hard, but smacking into Lena felt like being hit by a freight train.
            And even when she wasn’t out-thinking him or out-playing him, she used her magic to frustrate him in other ways. There were ten Lenas on the court, each with their own ball. There was one Lena, but she had wings and did loop-de-loops in the air before perching deftly on the top of the backboard.
            Even with all that, it was nice not to have to hold back, whether out of fairness or for the look of the thing. It was exhilarating, even to the point of what drunkenness must feel like, to throw off the mask and push himself to the limit. He leaped to the rafters, ran as fast as he could, sank a three-pointer from the opposite court.
            It was also fun because it was a challenge, and a different sort of one than keeping his powers reigned in all the time. This must be what his other teammates felt like when they went up against a bigger and better team. This must be what the coach meant when he talked about how adversity made you stronger, because you had to reach inside yourself and find the will to continue onward.
            He was playing the best basketball of his unnaturally long life, and even though Lena kept laughing at him and mocking him in her southern twang, Edward couldn’t help but smile a little.
            A few minutes into the second half, he thought that he had the Caster girl figured out. He noticed the pattern to her movements, the tiny microseconds where her attention was divided between weaving spells and sinking shots, and he pressed the advantage.
            He was feeling quite confident until it started torrentially down-pouring indoors. Edward took a header on the slick court, cracked his skull on the boards, and slid out-of-bounds, taking the ball with him.

*

            There was a long, fuzzy moment of black spots and disorientation. He came around to see the assistant coach and the team physician kneeling beside him.
            “What’s your name, son?” said the physician.
            He blinked. “What?”
            The assistant coach and the physician looked at one another. “I’m trying to assess you for brain injury. What’s your name?”
            “E-edythe?”
            “Okay,” said the assistant coach, “take him out.”
            “No, no, wait,” said Edward, hopping to his feet. “I’m Edward Cullen. I’m from Forks, WA. The president is…” not Woodrow Wilson…don’t say Woodrow Wilson, “that Donald Trump guy, but I kind of wish it was anyone else.”
            While he talked, the physician stood, took Edward by the temples, and peered into his eyes.
            “How do you feel, Cullen?”
            Edward glanced back at the court. Lena quirked a grin at him and tossed him a wave. “Good, good. I’d like to get back out there, if that’s okay.”
            “You’re sure?” said the assistant coach.
            “Sure, I’m sure.”
            “All right,” said the physician. “I’ll let you back in there, but the second. Cullen, look at me. The second you get dizzy or start to feel sick, call a timeout and get out of there, you got it?”
            “Yeah,” he said. On the court, Lena was sticking her tongue out at him.
            “Yeah. I get it.”

*

            Zags lost 71-65, but what a game!
            At least, that’s what Edward kept picking up from the minds around him. His fellow players were disappointed of course, but the game had been so close right until the end that, while everyone was down, no one felt like they had done a bad job at playing.
            Amusingly, it wasn’t even Lena who beat them. Edward had gotten her locked down in a corner right at the end of the game, but that didn’t stop Justin Jackson from turning a three point lead into a five point lead with ten seconds to go. Only someone with superhuman strength and speed could make up the difference with so little time left on the clock, and, while Edward could have done it, he knew it would be wrong.
            So the Zags lost 71-65. But what a game.
            He commiserated with his teammates, assured the coaching staff and the physician that he was really all right, really, and hit the showers. Long, long after the crowds had left the arena, Edward shouldered his gear bag and headed back to where his teammates would be staying.
            He bumped into Lena right outside the back door. She held out her hand.
            “Good game, Eddy.”
            He shook it. Her hand felt small and fragile in his, but he knew the girl behind the hand was anything but. “Don’t call me ‘Eddy,’” he said. “But, thanks. Good game to you, too.”
            She released his hand and brushed a stray hair out of her face. “So, what are you doing right now?”
            “Crashing, I guess.” He leaned in and said, in a lower voice, “or, pretending to.”
            Lena laughed. “Well, listen, if you’re just going to lie in bed and pretend to be asleep anyway, do you want to come hang out? There’s this good coffee place down in…”
            “I don’t drink…coffee,” he said, smiling despite himself.
            “Right, no, I guess you wouldn’t. Well, we could just hang around. Talk, you know?” she moved in closer—uncomfortably close, now. Edward could smell the sweet aroma of her blood. “See what happens?”
            He stepped back. “I appreciate it. I mean, I had fun, even though we lost, but…I just got out of this kind of messed up relationship and I…”
            She laughed again. “I’m not talking about a relationship, Mr. Cullen. I’m talking about sex.”
            “Sex?”
            “Yes!” she said. “You look so shocked. Jesus Christ, what are you, Mormon?”
            “No, no,” Edward replied, holding up his hands as if to ward off her accusation. “Of course not. I just assumed that maybe you…I mean, you’re a literal magical girl…I figured you had a boyfriend.”
            She shook her head. “Not in this continuity. Thanks, mom.”
            “Oh. Well. Uh. Sorry.”
            “It’s fine, it’s fine.” She took him lightly by the hand. “So. How about it? You share, I share, we see what happens?”
             Edward looked up at the moon, breathed in, breathed out. He realized that, for the first time, he couldn’t quite remember what Bella looked like.
            “Sure,” he said at last. “There’s just…this is embarrassing, but there’s just one more thing.”
            “What’s that?”
            “Well, I’m super strong and nigh invulnerable, and—”
            Lena smirked again. “Floorboards in there tell a different story, buddy.”
            “Ha ha. Shut up. Anyway, you’re a Caster, whatever that is, but you’re also just a human right? I’ve hurt way more people in my life than I’d care to admit. I don’t want to hurt you, too.”
            “Oh, emo kid, you wish,” said Lena. “I’ve got plenty of ways to protect myself. Besides, you’re not the biggest badass out here right now, or have you forgotten already.”
            Edward ran a hand through his hair. “I might have. Probably the brain damage.”
            “Ha! Well, listen. I can’t kiss unprotected mortals without causing them to experience painful shocks and, if I ever have sex with one, I might just shoot so much electricity into them that I give them spontaneous heart failure.”
            “You say that like you’re boasting,” said Edward.
            “Maybe a little.” She looped her arm around his. “Come on, corpse boy. Let’s see if you can ride the lightning.”


END

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

New Darkness: Part Two

In which the fan-fiction on Meg's behalf continues...



            Edward had played baseball for almost as long as the game had existed. Okay, that was an exaggeration, but still, he’d played a lot of baseball. Unfortunately, the baseball tryouts weren’t until spring, and Edward couldn’t imagine playing the game with anyone other than his family.
            He didn’t quite know why he tried out for basketball. If pressed, he would have said that he was in the standing in the front of McCarthey Athletic Center, checking out posters put up by the various intramurals groups and sports teams and…before he knew it he was in line to sign up for the tryouts.
            The coaches were more than a little dubious, and he guessed he didn’t blame them. The problem with being superhumanly strong is that the physical world leaves very little for your body to work hard against. I mean, unless you were Emmett and you threw trees and rocks around for fun. Compared to the other players, he was on the shortish side, on the scrawnyish side, and—due to being a sophomore and admitting that he had never played basketball before—was more than a bit on the inexperienced side.
            His vampiric powers, even consciously dialed back to almost nothing, gave him at least the appearance of natural skill, however. He was fast, agile, and never seemed to get tired. The coaches also seemed to appreciate that he did all the drills, came to all of the practices, didn’t give anyone any lip, and was pretty good about working with his teammates.
            He knew that he could be even better than this. His telepathy would always put him one step ahead of his opponents. His was literally so fast that he could do easy layups while the other players on the court seemed to literally be standing still. But that was no fun. Like baseball with the family, playing basketball was more about doing things with people. Of sharing a common interest. Of working to a common goal. You didn’t just do that by being an unstoppable, godlike, ballhog.
            Edward wasn’t sure that his teammates liked him either, and it took all of his willpower for him not to use his mental abilities to check. But soon, he started receiving friendly slaps after a good play (although he was always worried that someone was going to break their hand on his flawless chest), and good-natured ribbing in the locker room. This latter was a new sensation, and it was difficult for him to adjust to it. Edward knew they weren’t actually making fun of him, but the old, protective rage proved to be a beast that was hard to kill. He tried to smile, to laugh it off, hoping that his return barbs weren’t too envenomed and that they didn’t drive too deep.
            The season started and Edward, despite being a seemingly respectable member of the team, sat on the bench. He seethed inside, but less so than he would have back in Forks. He wanted to play, but he was competent enough at math to know that the team had a lot of players, and they could only play five of them at a time.
            The coaches finally started putting him in at the end of games, when Gonzaga’s victory was almost assured. He showboated a bit more than he promised himself he would, but there was something about the energy on the court, the surging scream of the crowd, that got his venom pumping much more than mere bloodlust ever could. In his first two outings he left the other teams flatfooted and sank a half-dozen seemingly impossible shots.
            Gonzaga decided to have him start shortly thereafter.

#

            Edward had dialed it back as much as he could when he started playing regularly. He had come to respect and really enjoy the camaraderie of his teammates, and he wants to make sure they had a chance to shine as well. So he passed the ball, set up shots so his teammates could score, screened the other team, and even fouled and got fouled a time or two, crashing theatrically to the boards, acting, what he hoped, was the part of a fragile, moderately injured human.
            Back in Forks, his family had started watching the game, sending IMs and emails from their Apple products whenever Gonzaga won. They were all convinced that he was the lynchpin of the team, and Edward could not convince them otherwise, no matter how strongly he argued the point. He guessed that they were just proud of him that he was doing so well—and Jasper was impressed he hadn’t eaten that Israeli player from UCONN yet.
            All of that led them up to this night—the big game in the Final Four against the Tar Heels. Only one of them would advance. Edward, of course, hoped that it would be the Bulldogs. There was no way of knowing, though, especially considering that the Huskies’ women’s team (lady Huskies? Edward wasn’t sure) just had their more than 100 game winning streak broken. Freakish, but anything could happen.
            He did not, however, realize that anything included a slender, dark-haired girl wearing street clothes walking out with four of the Tar Heels. About the only thing that looked even remotely athletic on her were the broken-in Converse on her feet. She played idly with a necklace that was obviously homemade and strung with junk—something that would no doubt cause someone an eye injury over the course of the game.
            The girl squared off with Edward as the first half began. He looked around frantically—at the refs, at the coaches, at the other players—but no one else seemed to notice or care how out of place she was.
            “Hey,” she said, speaking in the low, honeyed drawl of the Deep South. “Get your head in the game, Cullen.”
            “But…you…” he said.  “How?”
            “I’m a Caster, you filthy blood incubus,” said the girl, breaking into a radiant smile. “And all these guys think I’m Isaiah Hicks. You don’t, though, because you’ve got powers and you’re cheating.”
            The whistle blew. Edward moved to cover the girl, listening to the omnipresent roar of the crowd, the high-pitched squealing of sneakers on wax. All of a sudden, the ball was in the girl’s hands.
            “Well, I’m Lena Duchannes, bitchbag, and if you can cheat, so can I.” 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Beautiful Twilight: Part One

This is a fan-fiction post for my friend Meg, who recently posted on her Facebook wall:

The NCAA Final Four is the Carolinas vs. the Pacific Northwest. How bad is it if I'm imagining a Beautiful Creatures / Twilight crossover with college basketball? #thisiswhymybracketbursts

One of my other friends responded, "this sounds like fan-fiction in the making," to which Meg replied, "Geoff Bottone! We need you!"

There was a lot of back-and-forth on her wall regarding this potential fan-fiction, including what it would be like and, of course, how slashy it would be. I participated in the discussion, laughed it off, and went about my day.

But then, like most writers, I had an idea.

This idea was hampered by the fact that I have never read Twilight or Beautiful Creatures. That said, I've read a lot of critical evaluations of Twilight (mostly from the ever-loving Mervin), so I at least know what the plot is. I had to Google Beautiful Creatures and discovered that it was that book that got turned into that movie about that girl who is a witch who will be claimed by good or evil.

And, I figured, maybe that was enough. Besides, fan-fiction writers don't give a shit about canon--Ron's a Death Eater! Harry is goff as fuck! Uh. Magenta-haired self-inserts! Kirk/Spock!--so maybe I didn't have to, either.

So, here is my non-canonical, unapproved fan-fiction involving Edward Cullen, Lena Duchannes, and the 2017 NCAA Final Four. Part One.

This one's for you, Meggles. Hope you like it!





            Edward did a double-take when a young woman came sauntering out onto the court with the other team. Of course, being a vampire, his double-take wasn’t even noticeable by the humans on his team, on the other team, courtside, or in the stands. It was a brief flicker of movement, eldritch in its beauty, which could have only been caught by a high-speed camera.
            The young woman, human-appearing but definitely not fully human, smirked at him. Whether this was a coincidence, or whether she had actually seen how she had rattled him, was unknown to him.
            Also, just like Bella, he couldn’t read her mind.
            Bella.
            Why the hell did everything still remind him of Bella?

#

            The last couple of years had been the longest of Edward’s already unnaturally long life.
            It turned out that Bella hadn’t really been in love with him at all—more than anything else, what she really loved was being a vampire. Once she had all the venom she ever wanted coursing through her veins, she became increasingly withdrawn. Their house, and here he smirked at the pun, became a mausoleum. She spent more and more time out in the wilderness alone.
            He was so used to knowing what other people were thinking that the complete isolation from Bella drove him almost completely mad. He didn’t know what she was thinking, and he couldn’t make her tell him what she was thinking. Every day was like a tug-of-war, with Bella ultimately snapping at him over some trifle or storming off into the woods.
            One day, she just didn’t come back.
            He tried to fill the hole left by her departure with other things. Long drives up to Alaska, spending time with his family, trying to rebuild a shattered home for his daughter, that sort of thing. He didn’t realize until it was too late that Renesmee was already lost to him. Bella had been poisoning his daughter’s mind from the start, and Jacob, her betrothed—and really, how messed up was that—continued to feed her piles of anti-vampire propaganda that the werewolves had been clinging to for years. Yes, sometimes we kill and eat people, but you werewolves freak out and hurt the ones you love. No hypocrisy there.
            Once Renesmee had left to go on a motorcycle tour with Jacob, Edward was left alone in his house with only his own thoughts and his memories for company. After the initial, months-long bout of self-pity (which might have been accurately portrayed with a sequence of blank pages with just the month names written on them, like chapter headings), he began to realize that he needed a change in his life.
            A really big change.

#

            He left the quiet fastness of Forks and enrolled in college again—this time at Gonzaga. He decided not to go in for another sciences or medical degree, instead pursuing something that he realized had become lost to him—the Humanities.
            He played piano for one of the campus bands, took courses on painting and sculpture, tried to wrap his head around post-modernism and post-post modernism, and tried very, very hard not to use his powers. He refused to take it for granted that all the answers that life provided were in the heads of other people. Humans didn’t have that ability. Humans had to deal with uncertainty and mystery—something he had long ago forgotten about until Bella reminded him.
            So, when he got a C+ on his all-night essay on Nietzsche and the Overman, a critique, comparing and contrasting using passages from Crime and Punishment, he went back to his dorm room knowing that he had at least come by his middling grade honestly, instead of yanking all the good ideas from the smug philosophy major two seats in front of him.
            College was hard this time. There were a lot more people at Gonzaga than he was used to, and their overactive, late-teen brains were a wild static of chatter. He had been able to filter out most of the noise with effort, but that just left him feeling more lonely and isolated than ever. Not knowing what people were thinking made interacting with them extremely difficult. He often wondered if he had made a good impression on anyone, or if they all thought he was a cold, unfeeling creep.
            Edward was feeling particularly low at the beginning of his second year at Gonzanga. He was about to throw in the towel and go home, but something changed all that.
            And the change was this: on a whim, he decided to try out for the basketball team.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Grey the Mercenary: The Rules

I recently came across Chuck Jones' Rules for his Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. It's an impressive list, and it really works to both define the characters and focus in on the types of stories that he wanted to tell.

I realized, while reading it, that I had cultivated my own rules for the Grey the Mercenary stories, even though I hadn't been consciously aware of doing it. Because I think it's interesting, and because I feel like showing off, I now hereby present to you, Gentle Reader, the rules that govern Grey.

*ahem*

  • Grey is never the point-of-view character in his stories. (There may be one exception to this.)
  • Grey must feature in every story, but he is rarely ever the focal point of the story.
  • The protagonist of each story must work to solve their own problems.
  • Grey will assist the protagonist, but will never, ever solve the problem by himself.
  • Each protagonist should be unique, and come from a different background. This facilitates Grey's wandering nature, but also allows you to explore numerous areas of the setting.
  • A small amount of Grey's backstory should be revealed in each story.
  • Different protagonists will describe Grey differently, as a reflection of their own beliefs and mental states.
  • The Saints, Prophets, and Ancestors can be oft-mentioned by their adherents, but should never do anything.
  • True magic is extremely rare, and is always tied to Life somehow.
  • The three big factions (Commonwealth, Company, Insurgency) should be presented as shades of gray with the occasional streak of black or white.
  • The stories take place over a long period of time, but they all should have similar settings and tech levels (18th century with a bit of steamy punk thrown in there).

So there you have it. I hope that was at least mildly interesting for you. We'll see how well I adhere to these rules down the road.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Boldly Go Character Art

Dave Woodward from Badgerlord Studios is a wonderful, talented artist who is quick, takes direction, and has reasonable rates! He is also a super-cool guy to LARP with!

Dave was kind enough to help me with my art needs for Boldly Go, that game that I talk about almost constantly, but which hasn't yet been released. However, with the way Dave produces art, the theoretical release date for the game draws ever closer.

Today, I'd like to present the portraits that Dave has done for some of the game's "iconic" characters. These characters are the crew of the game's iconic ship, SFS Oswego, and they feature prominently in all the rules examples provided throughout the book. There's even a few continuing narratives in the examples, for those of you who, like me, might like that kind of thing.


Our first character is the first character I ever designed, Security Officer Janine Tarian. She's a brash, slightly-overconfident human security officer of Iranian descent. She believes that there's nothing, whether in space or planetside, that she can't handle and, as far as anyone can tell, she's been 100% right about that so far. In play, she has been known to leap face-first into dangerous situations and to blast raysers straight out of her opponents' hands.


Our second character is Omolara Namuyangu who, funnily enough, isn't the first sample character that I've designed who has been named Omolara. I think it's because Omolara is a really pretty name.

This Omolara is the Chief Science Officer on board the Oswego. She grew up in Fort Portal, Uganda, and is known for her stoic seriousness, determination, and resolve. She once saved the crew of the Oswego from a deadly disease while suffering from the disease herself. When she's not reading up on the latest scientific discoveries or working with the crew to analyze new samples and species, she can be found in the Oswego's gym, running laps on the track.

I am very, very pleased with how Dave has chosen to render my characters. He has captured their personalities, done a wonderful job on the uniforms and gear, and has made them really stand out, both in their own right and from one another. My favorite detail, so far, is the Space Fleet insignia, which is worn as a uniform belt buckle instead of as a badge. The starship even has ye olde timey porthole on it, for maximum sci-fi goodness.

There are more crewmembers to come, so watch this space!