Chicago Geek Guy

Comics, Cosplay, LARPs, RPGs, Fiction, and more... all from Chicago

Author: RexCelestis (page 1 of 13)

Reaching for the Sky and Grabbing Only Air

Another story from my archives, posted as a sample of my work for potential RP partners.

Gotham Academy for the Gifted. Shortened to GAFTG in all of its publications. Abbreviated to GAG by all its students, as in, with a spoon. There’s not a day when I don’t wander these halls on my way to and from class wondering, “Someone didn’t think this one through, did they?”

It’s not a bad place as far as exclusive, private, preparatory schools go. The uniforms don’t itch too much. The building is large enough I can usually get through the day without running into my snot nosed and occasionally annoying nephews. They don’t use metal detectors so I can sneak in my costume and collapsible staff, just in case I need to skip class to go fight crime.

Yeah. I’m one of those, a super-hero. I prefer the title, “Perky Teen Adventurer,” but everyone teases me that it sounds too much like a kinky personal ad on Craigslist. I’m Mercedes Agnes Thomas-Arasaka, Kid Harrier, daughter to Silent Strike and the Harrier King. All my friends call me Des, except for my nephew (yes, one of the two I try to avoid at school). Nick calls me “Mercy,” the twerp. Maybe it’s a crush. Whatever it is, I hope he grows out of it soon. I live with my ”vader” (Father in Dutch. I speak four and a half languages. My Mandarin, sorry, ”Putonghua”, is in development) in one of the worst neighborhoods in Gotham’s East Side. We’re reclaiming the streets, block by block around two of the apartment buildings we own there. My mother? That’s a whole other conversation.

The conversation I was trying to focus on at the moment included my best friend, Veena Batchu. She leaned on the locker next to mine, dark skin and an athlete’s body dressed in our cheerleading uniform. There’s a beauty mark on her cheek that sinks into a dimple when she smiles. I think she’s really pretty. I hear her father is some famous surgeon in the city. Since that incident with the alcohol burner in the chem lab, I can’t see her with a scalpel. There wasn’t too much damage and that whole painted eyebrow look worked well for her as they grew back in, but give her a wicked sharp knife and say, “cut me, cut me?” Like, no way.

“Brad will be there.”

I can admit it. I wasn’t paying my best friend much attention. I’d been receiving the same Friday pitch for six weeks. “So and so is having a party. Wanna come with me? The other cheerleaders are starting to say things about you.” blah, blah, blah, blah. 

“Huh?” I stopped poking through my locker and looked over to repeat, “Huh?” Yep. That’s me. Clearly erudite and master of my vocabulary.

Veena smiled broadly, setting the hook. A perfect eyebrow (completely healed, seriously) lifted. “I said Brad will be there. Weren’t you listening to me?”

“I hang on your every word, Vee. Lisa’s parents are out of town. Big party at her house. Come at seven.”

“Wow,” she replied, eyes widening. “You’re like an idiot savant, absorbing everything you hear, except for that it’s Andrea’s parents, it’s a small gathering, and it starts at nine. Hmmm, maybe I’m half right.” I thought about sticking my tongue out at her, but if the other cheerleaders were talking… Oh godver. Like I care what the rest of the team thought. Maybe I could punch her in the arm. Nah, that would look too boyish.

I swallowed. “Are you sure?”

Her head tilted to one side as she rolled her back against the locker. “Of course, I’m sure, Des. I have a talent for these things.” She wasn’t kidding. Veena has this like, innate sense of the social scene. If someone will be somewhere, she would know. It’s like she’s telepathic, or something. Seeing what I’ve seen in Gotham, it’s a distinct possibility.

Brad. I turned back to face my locker, trying to hide the warmth that rose to my cheeks. Brad’s a senior in my honors American Lit class. Lacrosse team captain. Sandy hair with just a bit of a curl. Really dark, brown eyes. Reads Thoreau. No really. He actually reads all of his assignments and participates in class. Call me a geek, but I find that a major turn on. My knee started trembling.

“Well,” I stammered. Surely Va can do without me for one Friday night. “Will you come pick me up?”

“Really?” Vee squealed in excitement. “I mean, really! You will have the best time! I totally promise! I never believe anything Tricia says about you…”

I should have objected, defended myself. But at that moment I was thinking about talking to a dark pair of eyes and what I was going to say.

——

“Hi.”

I was sure he could see my knee shaking. It threatened to vibrate my entire body, leaving me standing on the stairs with chattering teeth like some hypothermia victim. I choked out a, “Hey.”

Brilliant. Witty. Fantastic first start. Please kill me now.

We were standing next to each other in the line for the bathroom. Like, like, I know everyone goes, but I was hoping it would be a while before Brad and I had to actually face that each of us had bodily functions to tend to. I looked into my half full cup of water, wondering if I could swear off drinking. Not just alcohol. Everything. I’ll get just enough via IV fluids and never have to go pee ever again. I heard the biologist part of my brain start explaining how that’s just not possible.

“Great party, huh?”

I’d only seen two people vomit so far. I’m pretty sure I saw a partially digested pea in Angelena Cortez’s hair. The modern meaning of “small gathering” equated to “as many as we can cram into the place.” When Vee and I arrived, we spent the first 15 minutes checking out the trends of Gotham’s hip teen scene; cute, short skirts with tall boots; lace and drooping necklaces well suited to one of my dad’s old 80’s movies. At 20 minutes, Vee and I agreed the beautiful people had started to turn ugly and a trip to find some ice cream sounded like a great idea, right after a quick detour to the bathroom.

Brad’s eyes looked darker up close. I took the liberty of looking into them as we stood in the queue. He didn’t smell like vomit or alcohol. So close to him, he smelled nice. My bangs lifted from my forehead with a puff of air from my mouth, something people say I do when I’m nervous. “Hmm, no,” I tried to muster a grin, but my lips felt lopsided. “This really isn’t my scene.”

Those eyes, those beautiful eyes, widened and a smile spread across his face. “Oh man, I was worried I was the only one.” It took me a second to recognize the noise coming from me as a laugh. “I got talked into coming here by a friend,” he continued. “You’re Mercedes, right? We’re in AmLit together, aren’t we?”

I nodded, feeling the smile even out on my face. “Des,” I blurted out. “My friends call me, Des.” He extended his hand. “Des, I’m Brad Winterborne. It’s a pleasure to…”

It’s human nature to run from screams; from those all too natural sounds that emanate from pain, shock, loss. It’s a behavior that I didn’t inherit. I vaulted down the stairs, cursing in Dutch that I had left my massive Chrome messenger bag in Vee’s car. Tracing the source of the screams took no effort. I ran towards what everyone else was running from.

I saw the body on the kitchen floor first, blood slowly spreading from a collapsed female figure. The screaming filled the room; Sharp, shrill, cries echoing off cold, yellow, Mexican tile. “Demons!” My head snapped left. I didn’t recognize the girl. Wet blood covered her all too short dress. Violent, red cuts lined her exposed legs and arms. She had shed her shoes sometime in the evening and stood barefoot. She held a $500, 8″, Hinkle sushi knife in one hand, pointing the tip at me. What can I say? My family knows cutlery.

“Demons!” She screamed again. I spared one look behind me. Demons are an occupational hazard in the hero biz. Movement brought my attention back to her, but not before I felt that exquisitely crafted blade cut through my silk, violet top and bit into my skin.

“Hey, no!” I yelled. “I’m no demon!” It didn’t take much to restrain her. It took a lot to keep her restrained. Her body flipped and skidded beneath me, slippery with blood and filled with unnatural strength. My side burned from the wound. I didn’t think she hit anything vital, but I found the pain distracting. When Vee and Brad poked their heads into the kitchen doorway, it took all my concentration to call out, “Call 911!”

——

Nothing clears out a party like a stabbing and a police presence. Well, maybe gunfire. To their credit, the GCPD arrived in record time. I took comfort in watching six peace officers try to get a pair of cuffs on Christine after they asked me to back off. Eventually, she just passed out.

Christine. Her name was Christine Dawley. We had Calculus together. I didn’t recognize her until the EMT’s had got her on a gurney and wiped the blood from her face. The other girl was named Jennifer Acosta. She had been critically injured, not expected to make it. I didn’t know her.

The police interview took about 45 minutes. They did offer me some medical attention before starting the questions. By then, my wound had completely healed. (Regeneration, improved dexterity and strength. All gifts from mom. Thanks mom!) Once they figured out I hadn’t been drinking, they didn’t even call my dad. (I inherited a bunch of stuff from Va, too! Thanks Va!)

The cops asked me a lot of questions about drugs. What I saw at the party. It didn’t take a detective to figure out drugs figured in here, somewhere. I was guessing Angel Dust. I have red hair, but confusing my cute, energetic self for a demon takes a serious hallucinogen.

Veena stuck around the whole time. She got drilled too, but not quite as long. Brad, sadly, had faded at some point. Difficult to say if my skill at wrestling a crazed, knife wielding teenager made a good first impression. Some boys don’t like it when girls can break them in half.

We didn’t say anything until we got to her car. The door barely shut before I called on Veena’s power of social awareness. “Do you know where she got the drugs?”

“Adam Farintino.” A junior. Slouches a lot. I had seen him at the party earlier, hanging out with Christian Rickey and Max Waguespack. I felt pretty sure I could track him down before the cops could.

“I know where he is.” I looked at Veena across the small space between the seats of her red Volkswagen Beetle. Telepathy looked more and more like a possibility.

“Could we talk about that later?” OooooooK. Yeah. Conversation needed. My eyes flitted to my messenger bag in the back seat. “Yes, Des,” Veena told me. “I know.” Make that, long conversation needed. I bit my lip and tried not to think.

“Yes. I’ll drive. You’re flexible. You can change on the way.” The whole not thinking thing apparently doesn’t work too well for me. As she put the car in gear, I crawled into the back seat and started pulling my costume out of the bag.

——

I’m not terribly intimidating. I stand about 168 cm (oh sorry, 5’6″) and I’m not really bulky. Still, you think that the costume, the mask, and the staff; and the fact that I had just trashed the two of his friends who had attacked me would have shifted Adam’s attitude a little.

“I didn’t do nothing!” he challenged. “She asked me! I didn’t even charge her for it!” He fished a small packet from the pocket of his jeans and threw it at me. I plucked it from the air. A pair of long legs and flowers adorned the small envelope; Vanilla Sky bath salts.

“Bath salts?” I asked. I had heard about this craze. Snorted or ingested, certain substances marketed as bath salts, acted like cocaine or PCP.

“Completely legal!” Emboldened, Adam took a step forward. “I didn’t do anything wrong! The cops were already here and didn’t find nuth’n! Now, get out of here, Harrier, before I call them back to arrest you for assault!”

I didn’t let my jaw drop. I like to think I kept a stern expression on my face while I worked through options. Technically, his buddies could charge me with battery. Self-defense wouldn’t work. The two of them really weren’t a threat and I could have gotten away too easily. These weren’t street punks. These were three kids from GAG, children of some of Gotham’s wealthiest; the city’s most likely to sue.

I stepped forward. Adam retreated a bit as I brought the tip of my staff to rest on his breastbone. “You didn’t do anything illegal, Adam. There are two of your classmates in the hospital. One of them might die. You did something wrong. Stop.”

I turned and left, trying not to trip over the tail between my legs.

——

“Well, this just sucks.” Veena plopped down on the curb next to me. I had slipped back into my jeans and cut up top as we hunted for supplies. My friend rummaged through the 7-11 bag for a moment before handing over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Karamel Sutra. I could get used to hanging out with a mindreader.

I started rolling the container in my hands before replying. “Total, major suckage. That great wooshing sound? That is the sound of suck.” Veena pulled open her ice cream and started in with a spoon. Some people just don’t care about the proper temperature at which to consume the holy dessert. “Does it usually end like this?” she asked.

I shook my head, squeezing the ice cream, checking if it had reached the right consistency. “It usually ends in arrests and a few bruises, maybe a pat on the back from a local cop or saved citizen, and then a bunch of questions from a DA”

“Do you ever have to testify?”

I peeled off the lid of the cup and dipped my spoon into the cold, creamy goodness. “Sometimes,” I answered, mouth full. “Most DA’s don’t want to get a mask with a secret ID in the courtroom. Too easy to attack credibility.”

“What are you going to do now?”

The ice cream rolled across my tongue as I thought about an answer. “Talk to my dad about it.” I knew that wouldn’t sound too geeky to Veena. Who tries to hide anything from a telepath, anyway?” I scooped up another spoonful as I pondered about things a bit more. “I’ll definitely keep an eye on Adam. I’ve heard that he deals in harder stuff. If he does, I want to bust him.”

My train of thought took me to a station I didn’t want to visit. “If Jennifer dies, Christine will likely face a manslaughter charge. Maybe then the DA can hit Adam with something like ‘willful negligence.'” I shook my head, dropping it between my knees. “Chris is looking at assault with a deadly weapon, at least. When you boil it down, she’s really the problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“If we believe Adam, she asked him for the salts. Nobody forced her. I don’t think seeing demons is what she expected, but…” I shrugged. “If everyone stopped using drugs, we’d stop having drug related crime.”

“Making them legal would stop drug related crime, too.”

“Maybe,” I said, shoveling out some more. “Vanilla Sky is legal and that didn’t stop a stabbing, tonight.”

Veena nodded, her spoon poking around in a cup of Chunky Monkey. “That’s true.”

“”Va” knows a few drug counselors, really good people. I might point one of them in Christine’s direction. I will pay for it.” I rolled my eyes. “Not like she needs the money.”

“Whether something like this happens to Chris again, will really depend on her.” We sat there in silence a few moments, finishing off our ice cream. A good thing about superpowers? They burn a ton of calories.

Veena turned her head towards me, her dark eyes settling on mine. “Do you like it? The hero thing?”

“Usually,” I answered, puffing the bangs from my forehead. “My family and I, my mother, my father, my sister, my…” I couldn’t get it out without a short snort, “nephews, and I have helped a lot of people, made a lot of people’s lives better.” I stopped, thinking about two classmates in the hospital and a drug ‘dealer’ I couldn’t touch. “Do I like it, tonight? Not so much.”

Reprisal

In January of 2014, I was invited to join a rather elite super-group, The Protectors of the World. I came into the group, mid story. Unlike my most previous experience, the leader of PotW, Pallas, went out of her way to include Chance, The Harrier, in the ongoing tale, and made excellent use of his abilities as a detective. After pushing a suspect a little too far, Pallas asked me to come up with come up with a response that would test Chance’s resolve and commitment. This is what I came up with.

This doesn’t tell the whole story. Some parts occurred during real time role-play. I’m hoping there’s enough to convey the gist.

Hurt, fear, and anger welled in his stomach, pushed up his throat, and out past his teeth. Chance felt the rough gravel through his palms and knees where he heaved by the roadside. Winter’s bitter wind ripped through his silk shirt and jacket. He thought he was through when his body spit out another glob of bile on the Michigan highway.

He hadn’t even made it back to Millennium City. The car had been on its way from a small, private, airport when the call came in. Senator Channing hadn’t wasted any time in bombing a vulnerable spot in Chance’s life, Kori’s. Chance had stopped listening to his phone after Paz told him about the death. The face of Incul Adomo hovered before his closed eyes. Incul had a quick wit and a quicker smile. A smile now darkened.

Chance ordered his driver to pull over. He barely made it out of the car before he threw up.

“¡Jefe!” his phone yelled at him. “¡Jefe!” Chance picked himself off all fours, then struggled to seat himself, back against the tire of a black Mercedes. His mouth tasted bitter. “I’m here, Paz,” he told the phone. “How many others hurt?”

“Thirteen at last count,” Paz replied. “Things are still very chaotic here. MCPD is on site and some engineers. They want to check for other explosives and make sure the building is safe.”

He had traveled to Texas to get information and provoke a response. One dead and almost a score more injured twisted and curled Chance’s stomach again. He swallowed down another dollop of vomit. He had brought this on his people.

“Give them everything they need, Paz. Call Eddie. As a superhero, I want SCIU involved.”

“Claro.”

“Has anyone talked to Incul’s parents?”

“No lo sé” Paz answered. “Chance, we need you here.”

Chance stood, accepting help from his driver. “I’m going to find the Adomo’s first. Call everyone in. We’re going to need as much help as we can muster to keep things calm in the neighborhood and find the people who did this.”

He knew who did this. He knew who killed, injured, and threatened the people that put their faith in Harrier. That catalog of ten powerful men had just become a hit list.

——

She found him kneeling amidst hovering words and lists, photos and diagrams. Her husband’s eyes looked red rimmed; his face unshaven. Kori crossed to him silently and wrapped her arms around him from behind. A deep sigh of relief filled his right ear.

Chance closed his eyes and took a deep breath of her. Kori moved, setting in front of him, a hand on his cheek. She kissed him deeply before embracing him.

“I am so sorry,” she whispered to him. “I love you.”

The space of a few heartbeats passed before Chance spoke. “How many more, Kori? How many more will die? I look at this list of names….” She took a deep breath as he paused. “We could have them killed. Couldn’t we? Isn’t that how…” He turned his head away, unable to look at her.

Kori exhaled slowly before leaning in to kiss his cheek. The flesh tasted tear stained salty. “I can’t count how many have lost their lives in my past and in my family’s history. Nor can I count the tears.” His eyes found hers as she continued. “We make choices and hope for a better way.” Chance could see the love in her violet orbs. “But we can’t anticipate all of the tragedies.”

She reached out to touch his chest and rest her palm there. “These are important people, judges, businessmen, scientists. They’ll be well insulated by lawyers, plausible deniability,” he explained.

“Everyone has a weakness.”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier if they were dead?” he asked

“For some, yes. For others,” she cautioned and pressed on his heart, gently, “not so easy.”

“When I first met you, I saw what I wanted to be,” she told her husband. “And I strive for that every day.”

“You don’t murder.” She shook her head. “You’re not a villain. And the ability to stay the course even after enduring the pain of all these deaths is what makes you a hero.”

Chance swallowed as Kori moved her face closer to his. “My hero,” she whispered, “and a hero to your children.” He embraced her, held her tightly against him.

“We’ll take care of the families,” she told him, “and the services for them

“I love you, Kori. I… ” Chance choked on the confession, “I wanted them all, that whole list, just even for a moment, dead. Judges, Senators, all of them. They used their children as lab rats. Put chips in their brains to control them.”

Kori breathed a sigh of some relief. “It’s not who you are.” Chance’s body shuddered for a moment in her arms. “There are other ways to deal with them.”

“I need some help.”

“Anything,” she answered with a nod. “After the bombing I contacted a specialist that I’ve used in the past, along with Kei, and others at the castle.”

“I need a system hacked. A company called Cyberchane. It’s way beyond what I can do.”

“The specialist can handle it,” Kori explained. Kei has been infiltrating the MCPD for about a year now in several departments, and Gen can handle the UNTIL end of things.” Her eyes hardened. “Please don’t ask any questions about this specialist. He’s known as Raven and I used to work with him on past operations.”

“I won’t,” Chance assures her with a shake of his head. “He’ll be contacting you when he’s ready,” Kori said and then kissed him. “He owes me a favor for something I did for him. A huge favor, And he’s on our payroll.”

“I’ve had security increased in all of our major branch offices,” she continued, “the castle, and here in Millennium City as well.”

“Thank you,” Chance said to her. “You are my hero.

“Of course,” Kori replied, her lips turning into a smirk. “I’m your wife.”

——

The initial meeting went quickly, a few words spoken over a hastily devoured breakfast. The results came to Chance in the form of a flash drive and a note to his wife. “We’re even,” it read. The analysis took more time for Harrier to plow through than it took Raven and his team to steal.

Control. It was all about control.

Initially started as a method to provide battlefield telemetry, the DoD scrapped Project Apotheosis as too invasive. From the data Chance had gathered, if looked like Cyberchane decided to press on, anyway.

The tiny chips could allow remote control of a body, like a marionette on strings. The chips went into four children of the group, including Alex Harper and Justin Channing.

Chance reviewed the error logs on the implanted devices

20131227-13:56 Device activation, Alex Harper<br>

20140119-13;04 Device Failure: Justin Channing<br>

20140119-14:56 Device Failure: Robert Mann<br>

20140119-19:03 Device Failure: Marcus Gate<br>

20140125-17:53 Device Failure: Alex Harper

Apparently, failure equaled death. Their perfect brains, Chance supposed. Their perfect brains couldn’t abide by an attempt at foreign control. Only Alex has survived, a roll of the dice.

Sloughing through the financial data brought a slow smiled to his lips. A thin trail of dollars and cents traced from Cyberchane’s 56 employees right back to partial owner, Senator Oliver Channing. Obtained illegally, Chance knew he couldn’t take this to a Federal Assistant DA, but Chance had other ideas.

After making a secure copy of all the information, he dialed the offices of the Millennium City Horizon. “Susan,” he asked. “How would you like to bring down a political dynasty?”

“What do I have?” He chuckled. “Illegal experimentation, casual disregard for human life, all from the great state of Texas.”

Pictures hovered around him, faces staring to the unseen recesses of his living room. Chance turned as he heard Nora’s boots on the hardwood floor. “You’ve broken me,” he told her. “Kori and I chatted yesterday. Futuremax will be installing the holo-emitters in my BSP office, next week.”

The raven-haired young woman grinned. “Athena be praised,” she chuckled. “What are we looking at?” Chance spread his hands, a mage wielding technical magic. “These are pictures taken at the scene of the bombing.” He looked around as if trying to absorb all the details of the hundreds of images. “Everyone in the barrio came out. Those that didn’t help the injured took snapshots, just like they were supposed to” He flicked a few fingers. White circles appeared over a common face in the crowd. “That’s our bomber. Look how he’s moving away in time as everyone else is either moving closer or watching at a distance. He’s getting away.”

Nora opened the folder in her hands. “That is our bomber, Chance. The FBI got a partial print off the detonator.” She turned the folder to show Chance a picture. “You’re looking at Lawrence Shelby. He’s got a healthy list of priors. Bombing is his thing.”

“You got alias’ and last knowns?”

“Indeed, I do.” Chance turned to grab his jacket. A wave of a hand dissolved the floating collection. “Let’s go do this the old fashion way. On our feet.”

——-

Chance plopped down into the uncomfortable chair. People hustled and moved around them, some dragging luggage along behind. The detective fiddled with the newspaper in his lap than turned to look at the man sitting next to him. “Morocco, huh?” Chance said. “Nice choice. You’re got plenty of money stashed and it doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US. Well done.”

“I’m sorry,” the other man told him, confusion adding wrinkles to his face. “Do I know you?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure you do,” Chance said. “I certainly know you, Lawrence.” The detective bit back a smile as he watched the color drain from the other man’s face. Chance reached out to place the newspaper on Lawrence’s lap. The headline read, “Corruption at Cyberchane. Charges Expected.”

“Stupid boss,” Chance mused. “Got caught before the heat died down and suddenly you have to risk using a known alias to get out of town in a hurry.” Chance patted his thighs. “You thought we wouldn’t notice. We noticed.” Lawrence shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“I figure this is going to go down in two ways,” Chance told him. “You’re going to sit there then nod at me, once. I’m going to give the agents with me the high sign and they are going to come over and arrest you. No muss. No fuss.”

“Or,” Chance sighed, “You think you can get the drop on my with that handgun you smuggled past the security checkpoint and I get to shock you before you even make it to your feet. Then, I signal the cops and they come over and arrest your drooling, unconscious body.” A wide smile spread out over his face. “What’s it going to be?”

Lawrence swallowed then nodded, once. Chance raised a hand and waved. A small group of plain clothed agents descended on them. “Thank you, Larry,” Chance quipped. “Please do try to have a nice day…. In prison.”

Morality

In 2012, I participated forum RP that I used to explore the varying moralities of two very different characters, a witch and a superhero. It wasn’t exactly what the original author intended, but she liked the read.

Siobhan’s Story

The quiet girl clung to her kilt. Siobhan turned slowly, her sword at the ready. No other demons appeared. No more tentacles threatened to snake out from the darkness. The witch’s eyes settled on the huddled, whimpering form in the corner. “Don’t kill me,” he whispered. “Please don’t kill me.”

Siobhan knelt and faced the little girl. Her senses reached out. Her magics could heal the broken parts of this body. The fragmented emotions would take more time. Calloused fingers wiped away the dirt and tears from the innocent face. “Yer safe now, lass.”

Her attention turned once more to the man in the corner. A minor practitioner, he had decided to turn his skills to terror and power in ways Siobhan once believed un-imaginable. After her long lifetime, the witch could now easily envision the dark places a young, male imagination longs to visit. She turned back to her young charge, removing the remaining smudge from the little girl’s face. Dim, dark eyes stared into Shiv’s. “Stay ‘ere, lass. Will ‘ave ye hame soon.”

At one time, she would have called the police. She would have accepted mortal justice and hoped this man would seek redemption. That was lifetimes ago.

The witch rose, sheathing her sword, and walked towards the cowering figure. “Please don’t kill me,” he muttered again, his eyes widening as she neared. “I didn’t know…. I didn’t know.” Her knee touched the ground as she knelt by him. “Ye will knoo,” she hissed.

The mixture of dirt and tears on her thumb glowed briefly as Siobhan breathed across it. Harsh, whispered syllables called upon ancient powers. She reached out to press the grime into his forehead. “Ah curse thee. Ye will knoo the terror that girl has known. Ye will know the ripping, the blood, the pain. Ye will knoo these things for as long as she knew them.” The witch gathered her breath and exhaled in his face. “Ye will never knoo magic, again. An fer yer lifetime, ye will ponder and regret what ye ‘ad, what ye did, an what ye lost.”

Gentle as a lover, Siobhan leaned forward to place a tender kiss on his blacked, dirt and tear stained forehead. “Ah curse ye.”

Chance’s Story

“We didn’t have to pick him up here, Mr. Thomas. This is a courtesy to you and your special relationship with the police.” Chance smiled and nodded to slightly shorter narcotics cop. “I understand and appreciate that, Officer Jackson. I know you’re taking a lot of time out of your day to handle this case.”

Chance’s head tilted to look back at the teenaged boy sitting alone at the hardwood dining table of the private dining room in Kori’s wine cellar. “There’s no way we can keep Shon out of the system, Peter?” he asked.

“No, Chance.” The officer shook his head. “The case is too high profile. Between you and me, I think I’m going to give up my season tickets. I don’t think I can watch a team whose players offer up a bunch of kids to avoid jail time.”

“Thanks, Pete.” Chance nodded again. “Let us have a moment while our lawyer gets here. Go ahead upstairs and let us get you some lunch.” The officer started up the narrow stairs before stopping to turn and address Chance. “I think it’s sad, Chance. Teens look up to these guys and all they want is a quick score.” He shook his head and continued up the stairs, leaving Chance and the teenaged boy alone.

“Abaline will be here is a few minutes, Shon,” he said as he walked towards the table. He slid out a chair and sat down next to the boy. Shon kept his head down. His hands fidgeted with the strings of his long apron. The young man arrived for work today expecting to bus the lunch rush, not get himself arrested. Chance didn’t even think about trying to contact Shon’s mother and decided to summon his lawyer right away, instead.

“Jefe? Is my shift being covered?” the young man asked quietly. “I don’t want to anyone to work extra because of…”

Chance waited for the thought to pass before he answered his employee. “It’s OK. Chandra needed some extra hours. She came in.” The boy nodded, his head bobbing slowly. “Jefe?” Shon’s dark brown eyes turned up sluggishly to look into his boss’, “I did it, Jefe. Derek Palmer asked me if I knew where I could get some… incentive. I went out to talk to my brother, came back, and sold Mr. Palmer some cocaine in the men’s toilet.”

The long exhale disguised the sound of Chance’s anger banging against the inside of his forehead. He wanted to yell, to scream at the kid. Tell him in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to fuck up his own life, do it as far away from Kori’s and the people wanted to work towards a better future, as possible. To remind him how crack ruined his mother. Tell this bright future sitting here that some pro-ball player asked him for drugs because of the color of his skin, because he looked like a dumb ass kid. Speak of the risk and temptation Shon’s actions just exposed every one of his co-workers and friends to.

Chance tried to breath out a bit more anger before he finally asked in a calm voice, “Are you going to do it again?” Shon’s head shook back and forth quickly. “No. Jefe. My marks are up. It’s only another year until I graduate high school. I want to go to college.” Tears welled up in those eyes. “I’ll never do it again, Jefe.”

“This is how it’s going to work, Shon.” The restaurateur leaned forward in his chair. “This is nonnegotiable. There is no compromise.”

“You are going to cooperate with our lawyer and the police. If Abaline tells me about a hint of sass, you’re fired. You keep clean and do everything Abaline tells you, you will have a job here. You will have off for every court appearance, every time the MCPD wants to talk to you. This is your first offense. I don’t think it’s likely, but if you have to do any time in juvi,” the boy’s face blanched. “If you have to spend any time in juvi,” Chance continued calmly, “you will still have a job here when you get out, you will not lose your scholarship, and the restaurant will cover the costs of your legal expenses.”

Silence stretched out the moments. “And my expenses can get expensive,” said a voice from the stairs. Chance rose, extending a hand. “Thank you for coming, Abaline.” the young man at the table stood as the professionally dressed woman walked into the room. “Abaline Rose, this is Shon Tuft.” The attorney glared at her young client. “You talk to the cop upstairs?” Chance asked. “Yes,” the woman responded. “I’d like to meet with Shon for a few minutes and then we’re all going down to the station. I think I talked him out of handcuffs.”

“I’ll leave you two alone, then,” Chance said as he began to walk towards the stairs. “Jefe?” said a weak voice behind him. Chance stopped and turned, his foot on the first step leading up. “I’m sorry,” Shon told him. Chance spoke clearly. “I believe you, Shon. And I believe in you.”

The Snake Knows… Creative Notes

In 2013, I started then had to prematurely stop a super-heroic RP. I took to the forum to explain to the participants the plot and why I decided to cut it short. I’ve learned a lot since this time, but I wanted to share some of my thought processes and insight into the type of RP’s I’ve participated in.

With me pulling the plug on “The Snake Knows…” I thought I would post a few notes about how the story got started, what I learned in this effort, and possible endings. A confluence of factors led to me trying to run it as a RP and I appreciated everyone’s help in trying to pull it off.

The initial impetus for the story came from a reading of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein. I had friends that decided to stay in Japan as hostesses after their contracts with the JET Programme ended and I met a few hostesses during outings into Tokyo. Many of them described the “Job” like paid dating with a real potential to receive expensive gifts and money before heading back to home countries. I don’t think anyone understood the dangers that went into the job and/or the business’ ties to the forced sexual exploration of hundreds of women throughout Japan.

Armed with some new information from the book and my own experience, a mystery involving the disappearance of an American hostess seemed like a good fit for Chance. I originally saw the tale as a 5 to 7-part short story and sketched out this outline:

* Investigate the death of an English teacher

* Chance visits a local crime boss

* Discovers she was working as a prostitute

* Discovers she was talking to a reporter

* Questions reporter

* Learns girl talked to him about forced sex workers

* Something leads him to murderer

* Discovered murder with introduced to victims by pimp of forced laborers

* Chance is told the pimp is untouchable to police due to a tip years before.

* Chance confronts pimp.

As I wrote the outline, I realized that I didn’t know what Chance would do when he solved the case or the particulars of how he would solve it. This isn’t unusual for me. I set my characters up with a base framework of a story and I write what they do and how they react using their voice in my head. This case would challenge Chance, calling into question what he would find acceptable in a pursuit of justice. I honestly didn’t know how this would turn this out.

Given that a few of friends had asked Chance about the next time he was going to Japan, I thought I would open the story up to other players. It would provide an excuse for Chance to go back to Japan for something other than meeting his contacts in the intelligence services or Yakuza and give me an opportunity to play with a different group of people. I was also very curious to see if the other players could come up with a solution I did not.

Think I overshot with this story as an introduction to my storytelling style, but I found it a valuable experience. I don’t think I would have used two pronged story as my first RP with this group. Sticking to a single objective would have made it easier to maintain focus and shortened duration. Some in game time would have really helped things along. The setting added unnecessary complexity. The Japanese legal system is considerably different from Western organizations, as are the populace’s relationship with the police.

While it provided some great character moments, this story could at best end in a draw. I. Didn’t hear any plan so far that would lead to shutting down the Nigerians permanently or getting Kumagae convicted with certainty. That might be a standard in the worlds I usually GM for, dark fantasy, but it doesn’t work too well for superheroes.

So, what happened next?

If the group can get the women away from the Nigerians and to the Polaris Project, the women will be safe. This seemed very likely. The nightclub owners have no reach outside of Japan. Unfortunately, it is just a matter of time before the two start again with another collection of foreigners. It’s possible that anonymous tips about drugs in the bar will finally attract the attention of the police and get the Nigerias deported, eventually.

I’m still struggling about Kumagae. Initially, I believed Chance would steal video of the man assaulting a clearly drugged hostess, then handing that footage over to the reporter for Pittard to give to his contacts at the police. This would force a search of Kumagae’s house and reveal hours and hours of video. This is by no means a slam dunk. It took years to convict Joji Obara, the criminal upon which I based Kumagae, and they had similar evidence in that case.

To give the party a “win” I had considered making Kumagae a kappa, a type of Japanese vampire. That would give the group something to fight against and offer a clear victory over an evil creature. I wasn’t sure I was going with this idea and was waiting to see how things went at the noodle shop.

In either case, I found it pretty likely that Kumagae would meet some form of justice for assaulting and killing an unknown number of hostesses.

Stephanie Burdette would eventually turn herself over to police and be charged with the Japanese version of obstruction of justice, get released after she makes a public apology, then quietly booted out of Japan with a request to never return.

Pittard is finished as a reporter in Japan. Loosely based on Jake Adelstein, I imagine him starting to work for a human right organization trying to end exploitation in Japan. It will consume the rest of his life.

One last note, the title “The Snake Knows…” comes from the Japanese proverb, “The snake knows the way of the serpent.” It reflects something that Jake Adelstein was told when assigned the Lucie Blackman case. It takes a foreigner to investigate a crime involving foreigners, basically.

May you never forget… Mnemonic Devices

I offer this up as an example of urban fantasy forum RP between myself and another player from 2011.

The address led to a nondescript brownstone, up the street from a haberdashery, on the city’s northwest side. A simple brass plaque identified the offices of the Black Swan Project. The receptionist greeted her with warmth and professionalism, pushing her ill-fitting glasses up her nose as she assured Ms O’Mallory that M’lady Warwick expected her and then led the slightly nonplussed woman upstairs.

The roof door opened to reveal a steel framed greenhouse, its contents hidden behind the moisture clinging to the glass. The clanging of metal sounded from the wooden shack next to the structure, a steady curl of smoke wafted from a brick smokestack.

Siobhan wore a t-shirt in the heat of the smithy, muscular arms working the metal beneath repeated hammer blows. The item of her attention went back into the forge, clasped in iron pincers. “This bae mae first trade,” the woman said as MacKenzie waited in the open doorway. “Ah cuid make most simple tools before ah ever saw a telly.” The item returned to the anvil from the fire and the pounding began anew. Four iron bars as thick as Mac’s pinky twisted to form a setting for a jewel as large as a man’s hand.

“Ah cannae teach ye ‘ow tae craft an enchantment, naet in one day. Ah can still make yer charm, iff’n yer still willing.”

MacKenzie smiled as she watched the woman working, amazed to see such an old craft still being used in these times. She nodded to the witch, “I understand and yes I would still like you to make it for me. I think we are going to need it.” The druid forced a smile across her lips.

The setting sizzled as Siobhan placed it in a bucket of water. The red headed woman gestured towards a tunic hanging on a peg. “Change. T’will bae easier tae clean up iff’n ye make a mess.” Mackenzie nodded as she slipped the simple shift over her shoulders. “Shiv? is it bigger in her than it looks, or just a play of the lightening?”

“What di ye bring of this man ye want tae find?” the Witch asked, grinning at the comment about space as she weighed the locket in her hand. Mackenzie pulled out of her pocket a small chain with a wolf’s head locket on it. “Umm I am not sure if this is from him, but I think it is him or my father. I… uh.. I am sorry that I am not better prepared for this. I just wish I could remember more.” She handed the chain and locket over to the red headed woman.

“Iff’n yer naet sure, this may spoil the charm.” She set the jewelry on her anvil and walked over to a satchel hanging from another peg to pull out a few items.

“Oh then umm maybe we should not use that, because I am really not sure where I got it. I just know that I have had it since I came to the states.”

“The spell used tae repress yer memories reflects the nature of its maker. We need tae read that mage’s signature, iff’n ye will. We need tae draw his handiwork closer tae the surface.”

The witch slung a length of netting between two pegs then knelt. Within a few moments, she had drawn a circle beneath the makeshift hammock. A thick nob of chalk rested in her hands as she checked the sigils surrounding her work. Satisfied, she stood looking around the room. She found a large, clay bowl and set it in the center of the circle. Her face expressionless, she pressed her hand to Mackenzie’s abdomen. She nodded then held out a flask to Mackenzie, its cork sealed with dark red wax. “This will naet bae pleasant, lass. Drink this.”

“Eh.. umm sure” She takes the flask and drinks it, scrunching up her nose. “Oh… uh..”

Siobhan leapt forward, clearly surprised by the young woman’s level of trust. “What ye shuid bae asking yerselv now, lass,” the witch clucked, “tis what ye now have in common wit Socrates.” Strong arms caught Mackenzie as her legs gave out underneath her.

“Dinnae fret, lass,” Siobhan cooed as she carried Mackenzie to the makeshift hammock. “There shounae bae any pain.” The young druid’s legs refused to answer her commands. Her breath quickened as the tingle from her useless limbs spread into her chest. “Shhh, shh,” Siobhan comforted, watching the spittle build at the corner of the young woman’s mouth as her

Lips struggled to form words. The witch brushed locks from MacKenzie’s face, then crossed her arms across her breasts. “Yer life will flash before yer eyes,” Siobhan whispered, watching the panic blossom across an angelic face. “Yer memories will press again the fetters that bind them. Ah need tae grab ahold of those chains. Ye need tae remember.”

The rough sounds of a Gaelic lullaby echoed from Siobhan as the witch placed a hand against Mackenzie’s chest. She sang with unexpected sweetness at the girl’s heart slowed, then stopped.

”When she saw her, she felt like she was five again. She wanted to run to her and hold her and be held in her arms, but she didn’t… Mackenzie stood there and watched her mother and she knew she could not go. She could not leave Chance, no not her. She knew his fear was of losing her and she was not going to go out, no like this, no matter how much she wanted to run to her mother’s arms, she knew it was not her time. She had plans dammit, so she turned away from her mother and walked the other direction.”

The witch worked quickly, spreading her hands over the young druid’s body, ensuring the bowl and the circle below captured all she needed to fashion the charm. Quiet mantras passed her lips as she felt life flow and ebb around her. She plucked out the foreign streams of magic and sent them to the bowl below. Like dye in a river, the mage who suppressed Mackenzie’s memories had left traces; traces a skilled practitioner could find and track.

When finished, Siobhan took a deep, deep breath, sucking up all the life in the magically contained space. With one forceful exhale, she pushed the life back into Mackenzie’s lungs. A heart began beating again. The woman would rest for a few more moments, letting the witch work in peace.

Siobhan removed the bowl from the ground and broke the chalk circle with a rubbing of her toe. She kneaded the fowl mixture of excrement and magic with her hands, reaching out to add powders and liquids from nearby racks. She set the dun colored patty into the flames, driving the heat with a bellows. She washed her hands in a bucket then brought the water to Mackenzie’s side. The soiled shift slipped easily from the young woman’s shoulders. Siobhan bathed her naked body, drying and wrapping it in furs before stepping back to wait.

Mac sat upright with a gasp and whispered “Chance?” She looked around the room slowly remembering, where she was and why she was here. Her body trembled as she looked to the witch sitting there. It took her a moment before she was able to speak again. “What did you do to me?”

The witch stepped over to her forge, plunging the pincers into the coals and pulling out the burnt paddy. She struck it one time with her hammer, revealing a crystal within. She carried the still warm gem back to Mackenzie. “Making yer charm, lass.” A faint light glowed in the center of the amber. “An it seems that whoever ye bae looking fer still lives.”

She held out the gem to the young druid.

Mackenzie watched her intently, curiously, as she worked at the forge. She took the gem from the woman, her eyes holding a mixture of emotions. “You could have told me what was going to happen. You could have prepared me for it.” Her voice was calm and steady as she spoke. “This will help me locate him?”

Siobhan returned to the anvil, picking up the setting and attaching a chain to a ring at its back. She walked back to Mackenzie to pluck the gem from her hands and press it between the tines. The witch dangle the charm in front of her. It lilted slightly if pulled by an unseen force.

“The pull will git stronger as ye git close. T’will also brighten.” Siobhan explained. “It may naet function iffn’ ‘e warded.”

“Oh? Well then let’s hope he is not warded.” She looks to the older woman “Thank you for your assistance in this matter”

Siobhan nodded her head, slowly. “The service t’was bartered fer. That lad must care about ye a fair bit, ah ken. When ye return,” a sardonic smile passed across her face, “we’ll talk again about teaching ye what ye wannae knoo.”

Mac frowned and then looked up to Shiv. “Is there any way that I can make it to where I owe you and not him?” An eyebrow lifted in curiosity. “Dinnae faesch yerselv, lass. Ye will owe mae in tiem.” Siobhan’s lip curled. “Fer now, ah keep tae the original terms of mae agreement wit yer boy.”

Mac grinned at Shiv “Oh but I do worry myself about him, that is not anything that is going to change anytime soon. Since the favor was for me. Are you sure there is nothing I can do to convince you to let me pay this debt?”

“If he agrees,” Shiv explained patiently, “I will consider it.” The witch inhaled through her nose and sighed. “Young love. So delicious.” Mackenzie smiled “Deal. Now, thank you again for your help with this, I will see you when I get back.” Mackenzie slowly stood to offer the older woman a hug.

Siobhan accepted the offer of the hug, her strong arms squeezing Mackenzie tightly. “May this bring all the knowledge yer ‘oping fer, lass.” ”An none of the pain”, the witch thought to herself.

Dalliance

This is a really old story. I offer it up as a character intro for potential RP partners.

“I am spent m’lord. I doubt I can feel my legs, let alone move them.” She watched as he chuckled, gazing with appreciation if not disappointment as he clothed himself. He looked back at her, dark curly hair framing a pleasant face. The fullness of his lips caused her a tiny shiver as she lay in bed remembering their touch.

“How else could I escape your ravenous appetites, Giselle, but to leave you hobbled from exhaustion.” His voice matched the richness of her velvet bedcurtains. “Best stay out my reach then, good sir,” she cooed, “Lest I drag you back into its confines with my arms.” She laughed, naked as she crawled towards him. He stepped playfully back, slipping the chain of fob through the buttonhole of his gold threaded vest.

“I think not, m’lady. We have dallied too…” Somewhere in the house a door slammed. “Long.” The two raised a single eyebrow at each other as a rush came up the stairs. She had barely time to conceal herself with a sheet before the bedroom door swung open. “Look mother. Look at what we…”

The eyes of the young woman settled on her unclothed mother and her gentleman caller. “Mother!” She cried.

“Abigail!” her mother retorted.

“Abigail?” the young man asked, recognition dawning across his face. He looked back to the woman on the bed. “I would never have thought that little thing… with the tongue… a matter of genetics. Fine breeding madam.” She smiled and blushed at the complement.

“Ro!’ Abigail hissed from the doorframe. Her nostrils flared in anger. “Father!” she screamed.

Lt. Ichiro “Ro” Falconer, slipped his waistcoat from a chair and around his shoulders in one swift motion as he looked for another exit. Damn his poor reconnaissance. A second story window seemed his only other means of escape. The sound of heavy footfalls told him the enemy had taken the stairs.

“Colonel!” Ro called as he recognized the man. Once again, he looked to the figure on the bed. She had let the sheet drop. “An excellent choice, madam. A fine man. Hardly hated at all by his troops.” A smile spread across her face as if she was enjoying the confrontation.

“You sir are out of uniform!”

“Well yes, colonel,” Ro fumbled for something in his pocket. “A little less so than a few moments ago, but yes.”

The large man roared through the room, tugging at the sword at his side. Ro frantically worked a small piece of paper between his fingers, then opened his hands wide. A blossom of brilliant paper butterflies filled the room to impede the colonel’s progress. Offering the matron a wink and a smile, Ro slipped out the window to the ground below.

“Sean!” He called. “Quickly Sean!” A young man emerged from a nearby shadow. “And what does keeping watch mean to you lad?” he berated the boy. Sean began to speak when his eyes opened wide. Ro turned to spy the good colonel readying a quantum musket. “Run, lad! Run!”

The two fled down the street, the buzzing sound of the weapon filling the thoroughfare. “Oh, ye’ve done it this time for sure Lieutenant,” said the young man between breaths. “Looks like it’s the front for us!”

How to Teach a Board Game (And Actually Have Your Friends Play It)

This is a handout I wrote for a presentation I’m giving to the local library. The speaking part of the presentation will make up for the details that it lacks, but I thought I would offer it up here for thoughts and criticism.

Board games provide us structure in a sometimes-chaotic world. We get to work through strategies to progress towards a desired goal, engaging our brains and helping to develop tactical and social skills. Success brings the rush of victory. The sting of defeat lasts only as long as it takes to start the next game. Our friends and family come together over a table to co-operatively save the world from plague, protect the king, or stop the ship from sinking. Or those same people come together to achieve mastery over each other, and maybe double-cross a few on the way. 

We play games because they are fun. We invite and help others play games because we want to share the fun. 

But we don’t always know what makes for a good game, a good fit for our friends, or how to instruct them in this particular brand of enjoyment. 

What’s the Best Way to Share the Fun? 

What makes a good game? 

Good games engage their players from start to finish. Effective and balanced design keeps runaway victories rare and the players unsure of who will win right up until the end. They keep players in the game for as long as possible or eliminate them for only short periods. (Sometimes we need a break to get up and grab a snack, anyway.) Players make meaningful decisions in a good game, are not too exposed to the fickle folly of luck, or just hoping the other player doesn’t pay attention when you want to fill in that final X. 

What makes a good game, good for you? 

But a good game might not make a good fit for your group. Find out if this group likes to work together, be social, betray each other, or crush their enemies before them. A host who considers the experience, attention span, available time, and tastes will likely find something appropriate. Even then, it’s always a good idea to have a backup. 

What’s the Best Way to Host a Game? 

Learn the game 

As the host, the players will expect you to have a basic understanding of the rules to impact to them.  A number of resources exist to help. YouTube offers “How to Plays” and even play throughs of many games. Social media provides direct access to publishers, authors, and fan groups who can answer questions. Playing through a few moves solo may help convey a sense if how turns flow. 

Prepare a cozy setting 

A comfortable setting allows players to focus on the game and allows the host to express some creative flair. Players need access to snacks, drinks, restrooms, and power to plug in phones. While Deception: Murder in Hong Kong might call for Asian themed appetizers, but greasy fingers will damage game pieces. Noise and activity may distract gamers and the people around them. Finding a place where the two don’t overlap may help keep things running more smoothly. 

Besides putting out beverages and “clean” snacks, setting up the first play of a game in advance will make it easier to start and allow guest to look things over. Quick reference cards give players something to read as an introduction to the game and before play begins. Many games ship with these cards, but an Internet search will unusually turn up something fan made. Giving the players a few moments to examine the game pieces and an easy guide to the rules provides them an opportunity to absorb the game and perhaps answer some questions for themselves before the first move. 

Lead the players through the game 

After making sure everyone’s had a chance to get a snack, a drink, and plug in their phones, take a moment to describe the game both thematically and mechanically. Let the players know how they can win and when the game will end. Recount the flow of the game and what a player turn looks like. If there aren’t any questions, take a moment to walk through other important mechanics and potential pitfalls. 

Interact with the game throughout this narrative. Show the players what a resource token looks like. Pick up a meeple. Point to the locations on the game board. 

Although the rules may offer a suggestion, consider taking the first turn. Describe your actions and considerations as you make them. Then guide the next player through a turn, and so on, and so on. As players get more comfortable with the game, take appropriate moments to explain deeper strategies. 

The end of the game gives the opportunity to debrief. What did people like and dislike about it. Who won the “Play of the Game?” Figure out if they want to play again. If not, pull out a backup plan. Sharing fun is the goal, not beating a dead horse. 

What are Some Good Things to Do After? 

Getting feedback about the game over the next few days after a session provides players some time to ruminate on the experience. Taking the effort to follow up will help you decide if the game should join the regular rotation. It may also provide you with criticism about hosting the session and teaching the game you can apply to the next game night. 

Going Deep with Clockwork Depths

An avid board and card player her whole life, KK Blazek didn’t start role-playing until after she graduated high school. She started playing in a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP and before too long found herself running a tabletop D&D campaign out of her college dorm room. Once paired with husband David, the two combined their experience with world building and game design to create Girded Rose Games and work on their first project: the modern day, underwater, Steampunk inspired Clockwork Depths rule set for both tabletop and LARP play. Together, KK and David now fill the roles of Vice President of Operations and Head of Product Development, respectively, at the small company.

I had a chance to play a tabletop session of Clockwork Depths at the Midwinter Gaming Convention and sparked a conversation with KK about the game.

Clockwork Depths takes several Steampunk tropes and turns them sideways. It’s set in the modern era. It primarily occurs underwater. Can you speak to how you and David wanted to develop the concept in these directions? How did they occur to you?

When we were first working on the game it largely took place in the sky as opposed to beneath the waves, but we found the result a little dull. We love the thought of airships and soaring through the skies, but we wanted to include a healthy dose of fantastic creatures and a dollop of the horror genre. Both of those were easier to include by setting the game in an environment that is, even today, largely unexplored. Doing this allowed us to bring in different sentient species which gives players a greater range in character choices and sets the stage for people of vastly different cultures having to be inclusive and accepting of each other for the greater good (We’re really big on being inclusive in our house). It also opened the door for us to bring in creatures both malicious and benign, wonderous alchemical substances and magic to add flavor to the game. Besides, David loves the ocean, especially sharks as anyone reading the game will quickly see, so it was natural for him to set the game there, even if it did lead to a lot of extra work figuring out how the game mechanics were affected when the PCs are under water and not in a dometown.

The modern element was initially due to a random idea David had wherein he pictured a proper steampunk gentleman decked out in top hat, goggles, frock coat, trousers, boots and a Chicago Cubs t-shirt. Where the thought came from I have no idea, but it led us to explore the possibilities in a world where technology, culture and fashion were mostly steampunk, but continued to grow and evolve in certain areas. We quickly saw that setting the game in a world like this allowed us and our players greater freedom in some areas. Costuming for the LARP would be less expensive if players could incorporate parts of their modern clothing, for example. More importantly, while we love the civility, manners and poise of the Victorian era, the attitudes towards anything not “normal” held by most people in that time had no place in our game, or, as far as we’re concerned, gaming in general. Setting it in the modern era as we did, allowed us to move past those pitfalls by saying that while technology hadn’t changed, other aspects of culture had. Also, given his strong dislike for computers, cell phones etc, any time David can make a world where such things exist but are rare and illegal makes him do his happy dance.

What were the considerations you needed to keep in mind while designing for a LARP and table top RPG?

KK Blazek GMs a tabletop game of Clockwork Depths at Midwinter Gaming Convention.

The two main differences between LARP and tabletop are the method you use to resolve challenges and the number of players. Most tabletop games have four to six players and tend to use dice in some way. A LARP generally has anywhere from 10 to 50 players on average or more and tends to use rock, paper, scissors to resolve tasks and conflicts. In its heyday, it wasn’t unusual for me to walk into a Vampire LARP with 100+ people in attendance.

To solve this, we first started with submersibles and businesses. because the average crew of a submersible or business, at least at the beginning, is two to six. This gives you your own little group you can work within that can be its own entity in a tabletop, or one of any number of others in a LARP.

The system for resolving challenges was another brain child of David’s. Instead of dice or RPS, we have a blind draw system using colored tokens. It’s nice because it’s simple making combat and such super-fast and easy for even first-time players. Since a pouch can be worked into any costume and you don’t need to rely on a table to do a draw, the system is easily transferable between the two.

What drove the decision to design for tabletop and LARP at the same time?

Clockwork Depths supports both LARP and tabletop games with the same rules.

We’re opening with a message that says we support your personal preferences, and you’re more than welcome to come hang over here with the cool kids. 🙂 We are what we are up front, no excuses or apologies.

We wanted to give people choices when it came to playing our game. David and I love LARPing, and the costuming, make-up and gadgets that pervade steampunk in general, and in this game in specifically. That made LARP a natural choice for Clockwork Depths. However, LARPing is not for everyone so we didn’t want to exclude anyone. Plus, David had been playing and running table top RPGs for two decades before even hearing about LARPs, so his brain naturally thinks in those terms first. There also seems to be a desire to do this. There are, for example, a lot of D&D home brew LARPs running at conventions, but the d20 system does not lend itself to LARP.

The key was to make it possible for people to play either style without having to go through character conversions and such. That way if a game starts as a tabletop but, after increased interest the Gamescaper (the game specific term for GM) decides to turn it into a LARP, the existing players can just use their same character sheets with the rules they already know. Plus, there have been countless times when I was running a LARP where a few of the players wanted to do something like a dungeon crawl in downtime. Since the game is playable as both a LARP and table top, this is very easy to do.

How did you go about prepping the Kickstarter and what went into the decision to go that route?

We tossed around a few ideas for funding, but Kickstarter was the most appealing. It lets you get the word out. Being a small, family run company just starting out, the most important thing we can do is find ways to get our name and product out there. Since we have self-funded up to this point, we really needed that extra boost from the crowd funding to get things completed.

Prepping was interesting. We went through, I don’t even know how many versions of the video before we finally settled on the one we ended up with. One of our founders, Craig, did a lot of research and spends a lot of time on Kickstarter, so he and our Marketing Director, Robyn, have been our point people for that.

Do you have a backup plan?

We do, when we choose Kickstarter to get us the rest of the way, we had toyed around with three other plans for funding laid out, everything from a traditional business loan to other ways of getting backers.

How do you plan to market the game? Hitting the con circuit?

A lot of Cons, yes. We’re also working with local gaming shops to run games with their regulars. I also have some friends in various parts of the country, some of whom I introduced to gaming, who are excited to try to get some games running near them.

In addition, we’ve been talking with groups in the LGTBQ+ community. The two biggest messages in this game are inclusion and working together. We have a whole species built into the game, the Mechis, where you can pick what your Chassis looks like, male, female or neutral. Our Kumugwei are a matriarchal society, and the Merrow are ruled by their King and his husband.

That’s great to see in a game, but it’s rarely so overt. What’s behind that decision?

Initially, it wasn’t an overt decision, it’s something that happened naturally. We practice what we preach as far as being inclusive goes. Many of our friends and some family fall into LGTBQ+, as do I. We tend to gear things in such a way that it’s friendly to that lifestyle without thinking about it. It was our marketing director, Robyn, who read the book and wanted to know why we weren’t pushing that aspect harder. It was a bit of an eye opener for us that outside our little world. People won’t be aware that we’re accepting and welcoming unless we say so.

Similar, and some would say smaller, efforts have been made by RPG giants like Wizards of the Coast and faced some blowback from players. Do you have any concerns about maintaining such a vocal message of inclusivity as a small company?

I feel like, as a small group, we almost have an advantage. We aren’t trying to tell anyone how to think or play, it’s about opportunities and options. You can play a straight Merrow or be male and play a male Mechis. In our current tabletop test I’m playing a female Mechis.

Being small and starting with this message, we don’t have established fans who aren’t ok with it and might push back. We don’t have to shout because you know up front, we accept everyone. I also feel like with a larger, established company, unless the push is hard and loud, it doesn’t get to enough people.

I Get Anxious When I Run a Con (RPG Session)

As I searched for a system to run a new campaign, I ran several one-shot RPG adventures for small groups of players. The concept is not new to me and the players and I had a good time playing together. This week, I’m running a game of Tales from the Loop of a group of six at Midwinter Gaming Convention. I’ve got to say, this effort’s got my anxiety kicking into high gear. Something about trying to entertain and engage six strangers for four hours that causes me to lose a bit of sleep at night. In an attempt to figure out why, I thought I would put down a couple of my concerns and make a plan for addressing them.

I’ve boiled it down to three ideas: I am used to a comfortable gaming space. I’m not used to a low tech set up. I don’t know most of the people who plan to sit down at the table with me on Friday.

Playing somewhere else means literally playing outside of my comfort zone.

Since moving two years ago, I’ve been able to create a very comfortable space for gaming. Twelve people can sit around a custom table I built myself. Players can recharge their phones and plug in their laptops at built in outlets. Shelves of games line one wall and my collection of comics, the other. We’re in the basement, far enough to laugh and play without bothering other residents of the house. Playing somewhere else means literally playing outside of my comfort zone.

I know very little about the space I’ll use for the game this week. It’s table six in room Wright A. That room will host five other games at the same time of our session. I’ve got a few plans to help make our group more comfortable.

Hostess can save the world!

Scheduling the game for day two of the convention provides me with a chance to scout the location in advance. I’m even playing in a game in that space the day before. I’m also packing a few items that might help: a power strip, portable speaker to play some mood music (quietly), and a collection of alternate 80’s treats. (If we learned anything from Captain America in the 80’s, it’s that Hostess baked goods can save the world.)

I guess I’ve got to go back to “gasp” paper and pencil.

My game space at home allows for me to run a pretty technical game. A built-in monitor provides me a virtual tabletop where I can project maps and images for everyone to see. I keep my notes electronically in a searchable notebook. Lugging my 5′ x 5′ table from Chicago to Milwaukee is not an option. I guess I’ve got to go back to “gasp” paper and pencil. Well, maybe laminated sheets and wet erase markers.

This isn’t as bad as it may seem. Taking some time before a session allows me to find just the right images I want to use for flavor and what elements from the adventure the players really need to see. I’ve had a great time searching through old 80’s magazine covers to find images that strike the right tone. A member of the TftL Reddit community offered up these beautiful icon item cards, that I believe open up a great tactile experience for players. With laminating machines going for $20, I’ve been able to create game resources I can reuse for future adventures.

A $20 laminator makes sturdy handouts.

Going a bit lower tech may work out better for me in the long run. It offers me more time to plan out what I show to the players, instead of what I just find in an instant internet search and provides me with tangibles I can use for other sessions. I’m still going to use my tablet for reading my notes, though. It’s just way too convenient.

Overcoming this anxiety requires action on my part.

For someone usually considered an extrovert, meeting and working with new people often fills me with dread. Running a session when people expect to enjoy themselves for four hours, even more so. Teenage insecurity still haunts me and, like every time I’ve ever been on stage in my entire life, I know I will need to take that one nervous pee before we start.

Overcoming this anxiety requires action on my part. I’ve emailed the folks who will participate to provide a quick overview of the rules and setting. I’ve written down an outline of what to say when we first start the session. In my head, I’ve practiced greeting each player while extending a handshake.

A different space, using new tools, with people I don’t know. I hope to reduce my anxiety and increase the enjoyment for everyone by increasing my general level of organization; making sure I have all the information, props, and outlines I need ready, and taking advantage of what technologies and other resources I have available. I will also do my best to ensure I’m well rested and fed. I can’t GM at my best if I’m tired or hungry.

No. I can’t bring my cozy geek cave up to a convention, but I can certainly do my best to carve out a comfortable environment for myself and the players for our game.

Featured Image credit: NASCRAG

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Azul

One of my goals with the 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations is to talk about the games that don’t get enough press. While Board Game Geek’s Hotness list is a great tool, it’s not nearly as perfect or omniscient as many people treat it. But on occasion a popular game merits all of the praise it gets. And for that reason, on Day 8, we’re talking about Azul by Plan B Games

Azul is an abstract strategy, tile-laying game. It is also a very visual game, to the point that it’s challenging to describe the gameplay with just text! Therefore I’ll give a brief summary, and link the rulebook below in case you’re curious. I’ll also attempt to explain why the game is great.

Azul starts by giving each player their own board (more later on that), and setting up the center of the table. The table’s center will have a number of coasters (called “factories”) based on the number of players, and each factory will have four randomly chosen tiles on it. There are 20 tiles of each of the five colors.

At the start of a player’s turn they will pick a color of tile they want to take from a single factory, or from the center of the table. They must take all of the tiles of that color from the chosen location. If they take their chosen tiles from the factory, all of the other tiles are moved from the factory to the center of the table, increasing the options at that location.

After a player has take all of the tiles of their chosen color, they have to assigned them to their player board. A player board has five Pattern Lines on it, running horizontally with one atop the other, starting with one spot on the top, and five spots on the bottom. Players assign their chosen tiles to Pattern Lines, filling them from right to left. Pattern Lines can only hold one color, based on which color tile a player first places there.

After all of the tiles have been chosen from the table, players check to see if they have filled any Pattern Lines. If they have, a single tile of that color is assigned to the Wall space on the player board. Points are updated live based on how many tiles are touching, and the game ends if at least one player has completed a horizontal line of five tiles on their Wall.

If that sounds intriguing, give the rulebook a look. It’s only 6 pages, and has visuals describing every step of the game. (Including the ones I left out for simplicity sake.)

Azul is a game that earns its praise in ways that aren’t completely obvious at first. The mechanics are rather unique, but the gameplay is elegantly simple. It’s a game that’s easy to teach to kids, but it isn’t a “kid’s game”. The theme is fitting with the gameplay (players are Portuguese tile layers), but isn’t overwhelming to casual or new gamers.

But more subtle is the design of the tiles themselves. Because Azul’s central mechanic is all about color, it would have been easy to make them all plain, single-color. But other than the red and blue tiles, they have a pattern on them unique to each color. (The player board also has the same pattern for each color.) It’s extra details that doubtlessly took up extra resources, but it means the game can be played by people with various forms of color blindness.

It should also be noted that the tiles are very durable. Not only will they survive a lot of play, but they’re just fun to handle and place. Azul is both visually and tactilely engaging!

It’s these last points that really elevate Azul to being a fantastic product. Because the gameplay is so simple, the game itself could have been made out of cardboard tokens with minimal artwork and still have been great. Instead, the designers took the extra steps to make a beautiful game with components that make it accessible to a wider audience. So yes, Azul absolutely deserves its hype. Ask your local game store if they have it!

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.


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