Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Suburb of Horrors

Somewhere under a lost and lonely utility hutch of grim and foreboding aspect...
Eventually, I may have to use this. I've always suspected that there was something sinister under this place.

(Hint: Click the picture and look at the yellow letters in the middle of the box. If it still makes no sense to you, oh well. It won't be funny if I have to explain it.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Space Disco

Unsure what kind of music I was in the mood for today at work, I opened up and stared at the blank "station" field. While I was trying to figure out what I should put in the search box, some mad voice whispered "space disco" in my ear.

Awesome. Totally freakin' awesome.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Wedding With Style

Now this is a cool wedding cake topper! Click the picture to enlarge it and take a look at the sort of beige book on the bottom left. Pity we had to be next to Orson Scott Card, though.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dreams of the Cybermen

The Mystery Machine
Session 1: Dreams of the Cybermen

I ran this adventure at Troll Hoot IV, kicking off what I'm going to optimistically describe as a campaign. Shut up. It could happen. With the character generation, I decided to have them not only come up with their own backgrounds, but the story behind their being in a time machine together, and the nature of the time/space capsule itself. Here's what they came up with:

Merwyn Harkness: A descendant of Jack, but from the mid-21st century. She's a Torchwood agent, generally sort of a test pilot for weird junk that the agency appropriates. In the course of poking around in a new time capsule, she found a sonic screwdriver and discovered a temporal anomaly which led to an unstable bridge between 2040 and the 1970's. At this interface she found...

Ramsey Walker: A scientist who is generally altruistic but has somewhat questionable ethics. As a contractor for Torchwood, he had stumbled across a time corridor experiment and used used it to try out some new enhancement drugs on an ambitious athlete in 1976. Merwyn caught up to him, tagged him with an ankle bracelet, and was about to take him home along with...

Dallas Rugby: An American pro football player from 1976. He was the beneficiary of Ramsey's drugs which, so far, don't seem to have had any serious side effects. Nevertheless, Merwyn tagged him as well and was taking him back to the future for testing, concerned that whatever Ramsey did to him might unduly disrupt the timeline. Like any good sci-fi football hero, he brought his cleats and pads with him. In Merwyn's time capsule, he met and attempted to converse with...

Brock Snow: Technical assistant to Merwyn. Never developed much because his player was sleepy, unlike...

Doctor Wyman: Wyman putters around, stumbling into and narrowly avoiding danger like Mister Magoo, and wears the same glasses. Merwyn chose this man to accompany her because she hoped his divergent mind would have some luck deciphering the arcane technology of their not-technically-stolen time capsule...

The Mystery Machine: On the inside it's kind of TARDIS-like, but the outside is the Scooby Doo van. Torchwood "recovered" this device under ambiguous circumstances and they have yet to master its quirky, quasi-sentient controls, a situation which draws us tumbling through the time vortex with Merwyn, her crew, and her prisoners, when...

The communication panels started beeping and flashing. A communication from Torchwood was coming through simultaneously with some other kind of alert with a weird symbol from the Mystery Machine systems. Merwyn kicked the console and lost the Torchwood message completely, but cleared up the other one. The beacon was directing them back to 1976, a circumstance strange enough that Merwyn felt it was worth turning back to investigate.

After some more fidgeting, Wyman was able to pull up a map that led them right to an abandoned house in Dallas's neighborhood. There, they found signs of an explosion, radioactive particles, and several patches scattered around the walls that looked conspicuously untouched and even differently decorated, like pieces of the house from different times. In the center, in a small hemispheric indention, they found a piece of a mask that looked similar to but not quite the same as a Cyberman's faceplace.

The Cybus Industries Cybermen of the alternate Earth were familiar to Merwyn and Wyman. Ramsey and Brock only knew what the public knew: these metal men had appeared one day out of nowhere, clearly favoring Torchwood facilities for their HQ, abducted people, converted them to Cybermen, and then abruptly disappeared. Most people, Ramsey included, believed that Torchwood was responsible for creating the Cybermen in the first place. (Nobody is supposed to know about Torchwood but, come on, everyone does.) Dallas thought the Cybermen were a disco band, although when someone mentioned the Doctor, he revealed that he had a big fat book about Doctor sightings throughout history and various conspiracy theories revolving around him.

Before anyone could stop him, Dallas picked up the mask and pressed it over his own face. The mask sparked and hissed and Dallas could feel it twisting its sides towards him. The weird patches of other-time around the building flickered and shifted to other viewpoints and then the mask fizzed out and went dead. Merwyn scanned it with her sonic screwdriver which, when plugged back into the Mystery Machine, revealed that there had been a momentary time-corridor into the future, although the readout was maddeningly vague.

So off they went to what they would soon discover to be the planet Sarkis, orbiting a red giant star in the year 3073. They stepped out among the blue scrub plants to find a lumpy landscape with a cliff and a waterfall in the distance. Closer by, across a shallow, rocky river, was a sleek black landing pod with a stylized "GCE" logo prominently displayed in chrome.

Three people were setting up camp outside the lander, while Zora Trask, a thin older woman with short graying hair, supervised. Tasseker Zal, a weathered man wearing body armor and carrying what appeared to be a Dalek gun adapted for human use, stood idly by and looked around. The three who were actually working were Rick Janneks, a young man with a blond ponytail, Minsk Curran, a big bald man with a bushy beard, and Alice Unwin, a petite red-haired woman with pale skin.

Rick immediately waved to our heroes and went out to meet them, to Trask's obvious disapproval. Trask nevertheless took charge and made the introductions, noting immediately that Ramsey and Dallas wore radio devices that marked them as criminals and requiring that Merwyn sign several forms (on a data pad) acknowledging her responsibility for their behavior. GCE, it turned out, stood for Gnumetis Consolidated Enterprises, a corporation with controlling interest in a number of companies, which Trask listed proudly.

Rick and Dallas hit it off immediately and, while the others discussed the reason GCE was here, Dallas, discovering that Rick was a technician from a society far in advance of Merwyn's, asked for help removing his ankle tag. Meanwhile, the others (and of course Dallas' player too, because I wasn't about to have people leave the room or start passing notes) were learning that there was supposed to be an ancient cryogenic facility with, possibly, some operating Cyberman units preserved inside. Trask offered to share information with Merwyn and her crew if they wanted to help out, after signing the appropriate waivers, of course.

Merwyn agreed to cooperate, secretly planning to destroy any Cyberman technology that was uncovered to prevent it from being reactivated, and the rest of the team followed her lead. Everyone started setting up for the search. Wyman helped with the dig coordination system and took the opportunity to scan and study 31st century technology. In the midst of another conversation, there was a flash and a high-pitched noise and Zal said, "Ha! Got the little bugger!" as the seared corpse of a long rodent-like creature tumbled down from the ridge. Minsk was terribly dismayed and complained to Trask about the hired security man killing off the local fauna.

Also during the day's work, Rick managed to surreptitiously disarm Dallas's security bracelet. (Okay, I passed one note.) Dallas left the device behind at the site, going back and later making the point to Merwyn that he could have escaped, but he's not a criminal and shouldn't have to be shackled. Everyone went back to the Mystery Machine for the night rather than hanging out at the GCE camp. Somewhat frustrating, but I suppose I should have come up with a way to separate them from the thing if I didn't want them using it in what's really a perfectly sensible manner.

The next day they resumed searching and, again, in the middle of a conversation, Zal fried a creature, this time an odd sort of hyena-like ape-creature. No one, including Minsk, paid much attention beyond the initial startled look. They found a skeletal hand with cybernetic support structures holding the bone together, and it looked like much of the circuitry was still in good shape. Wyman was eager to help examine it and stayed at the GCE camp well into the evening.

Later that night, Minsk was seen leaving the camp. Wyman called the Mystery Machine to let his friends know and Merwyn and Dallas followed him and found him digging at a previously uninvestigated location. I don't remember why they left (maybe to go get Ramsey?) but they came back to find Minsk dead by a now-empty hole with his neck broken. Following a set of obvious tracks, they caught up with an old-series Mondas Cyberman (which none of them had ever seen before) staggering into the wastes with a crazy Frankenstein walk. They made several attempts to stun or restrain it, but the encounter ended with Dallas spending a lot of story points and crushing its head with a rock.

I'm getting a lot of this out of order. I started compressing events as I realized that the original build-up was going to be too slow and some of the more complex details were never going to be explored, and I've lost track of exactly how it played out because I was getting a little punchy too. Maybe they were split up. It would explain why so many things happened that don't seem to fit together. It's also possible that this stuff happened over two nights instead of one.

At some point they were attacked by cyber-masked hyena-apes and they found some odd crystals which Wyman discovered to be almost life-like in their complexity, but clearly inert, like some kind of petroleum product.

Back at the hole, they found that Minsk's body was missing, and had been dragged away by someone who didn't leave tracks.

They also spotted Brock wondering off and, noticing that he was acting strangely and had acquired an earpiece like a hand-free wireless phone gadget, subdued him. They then discovered that it was wired into his brain and couldn't be pulled out without killing him. I don't remember what Brock was trying to do. I think he was going to work on the headless Cyberman.

Later still, Ramsey managed to disable the earpiece and remove the external part, leaving Brock with wires dangling out of his now-deaf ear. They discovered at this point that the earpiece had little tentacle-legs so it had probably been able to move around on its own.

They found Minsk's body being operated upon by an egg-shaped techno-organic creature with five faces. It hovered a few feet off the ground and had a ring of metallic tentacles dangling from its lower body.

They were able to stun the creature with a sonic blast and haul it back to a cell in the Mystery Machine. Once it woke up, they tried to interrogate it. It communicated oddly. While the five faces and voices were clearly just masks for one personality, it would rotate a different mask to face the person it was addressing at different times.

The Quintesson at first attempted to negotiate for its freedom, but all its offers were rebuffed with "no, you were turning people into Cybermen." It then became rather sullen and started telling them that their actions were irrelevant and could not impact the project plan. Then it started smiling at Ramsey. At about this time, Trask and Zal showed up, demanding that the Quintesson be turned over to them, as all cybernetic organisms discovered on-site were considered part of their defined scope of work and therefore property of GCE.

When it became clear that our heroes would have none of this, Zal started to draw his pistol but was tackled by... I keep thinking it was Ramsey, but it would seem to make more sense that it was Dallas. I'm not sure. Whoever it was, he spent a ton of story points to pull this off so that he not only tackled Zal, but made him crack his head on the wall and fall unconscious.

After thinking for a moment, almost seeming to be listening to something, Trask offered a tight, insincere smile and agreed to leave the Quintesson with them. "Be advised, however, that, by the end of this quarter, our action item list will be updated."

And that was it. Questions were left unanswered, but it was a bit after midnight and it seemed like as good a stopping place as any we were likely to reach.

Monday, June 20, 2011

One Night in Upper Sandusky

When you play at this level, there's no ordinary venue. It's Toledo, or Indianapolis, or Vermont, or  or this place...

Okay, okay. It was really two nights. Fine. Just ruin the whole gag, why don't you? However you count it, we just wrapped up Troll Hoot IV (click away to find out what a Troll Hoot is) in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. It was two nights and a day of good solid geekery, and a great weekend away from the same old sights.

We got off to a good start straight from work and arrived early after an uneventful but somewhat interesting trip through the not-very-wilds of middle Ohio. It was a road we hadn't taken before, so there were some new sights to see. Different hills, other towns, sluggy brown Ohio rivers, stuff like that. I spent a lot of it scribbling notes for my event. Finding no one else there, we poked around the area on foot, ate lunch, and stopped by a convenience store for some snacks.

Trevor showed up, then the other Robin (Caed), Jeff, and Jerry. We milled about, trying to decide on place to have our kick-off dinner until Caed thought to ask the desk clerk at the hotel. She suggested M.J. Mugsy's downtown, which turned out to be an Italian restaurant with a great atmosphere. Oddly, we had the place almost to ourselves. One tasty meal and one snack/booze run later, we were back in the hotel and ready to start our first event.

The Null Queen
Traditionally, the Friday game at Troll Hoot has been more of a hypothetical construct. Seems like we've always had some people show up late and then, eager to reconnect and hang out, decided to skip that event. This time, we had it all together and were ready to start Trevor's Dynamo RPG playtest scenario. We made our own characters, fidgeting over the unusual attribute generation system and the wide choice of exotic races. We ended up with a human, two bird people, a goat-man, and a cyborg in our party. The adventure started with a bang when a crazed robot burst into the bar and, upon being subdued, declared that he had been sent to fetch us for The Null Queen. After a sort of Keystone Cops road trip to the ruins of Hollywood (now ruled by machine people) we shot up a few robots and a lot of scenery, installed new parts in our cyborg friend, and discovered that the Null Queen was a giant mantis who didn't like us (possibly because we blew up her house).

Journey Through a Strange Valley
Saturday kicked off with Tom's Tunnels & Trolls adventure. My wizard, Jerry's dwarf, and Trevor's troll shaman picked up after their last adventure while Caed and Jeff rolled up a couple of goblins to join us. As you might guess from the name, this was a wilderness trip through a geothermic nightmare where we were plagued by invisible steam sprites and poor navigation. Climbing out of the sauna, we spotted a dragon flying away from the peak and just had to check out its lair. More climbing and ice-walking fun followed, with Jerry finally hopping onto his shield and almost snowboarding to his doom in a frozen cave. After escaping the dragon, we were out of time, so we wrapped it up there and had some lunch.

On the way back from lunch, while Jerry and Tom were talking politics and everyone else was busy with other chores, I poked at the weird rock some more and took pictures of the hotel. Anyone reading this who knows something about geology, please tell me what this rock is. You can get a better view by clicking on the picture. Caed and I were thinking it must be some kind of fossil, like petrified seaweed or something. Where those wormy shapes were broken, I could see differently colored core, and there were little iron nodules scattered about the boulder.

Feast and Famine
Jerry's d20 Game of Thrones scenario was next. We had pre-generated characters, but still had to digest quite a lot of the setting's complex medieval hierarchies before getting started. Jerry got us into the action smoothly, and had everyone's full attention as we escorted our not-quite-dead dude-of-high-social-standing through the bandit-ridden countryside to a castle where sneaky bastards were already plotting to make his return irrelevant. Once exposed, the head bastard demanded trial by combat, and Jeff's character (the now-famous deserter-turned-hero, Brock) stepped up to bisect his champion in one chop. I've since heard that Jeff is particularly eager to play this game again, but all of us had a good time, and the story was interesting enough to make me want to read more of Jerry's campaign blog.

Dreams of the Cybermen
Thank Grodd for night people and the semi-employed. After a full day and night of gaming and alcohol topped off by a delivery from A.J's Heavenly Pizza (another excellent local suggestion from the desk clerk), it was their unorthodox sleeping patterns that saved my game from total oblivion. As it was, we completely lost Jeff, and Jerry had to struggle to keep his eyes open. I was a little punchy, myself. I suppose there could have been a more proximal cause for all this lethargy, but let's not go there.

I've described the session in detail in my next post, but basically we had Caed's Torchwood agent (Merwyn Harkness), Tom's 1970's football player (Dallas Rugby), Trevor's Magoo-dude (Doctor Wyman), Jerry's scientist and supplier of questionable medicines (Ramsey something), and Jeff's ... I don't remember what Jeff was supposed to be, but his name was Brock. Jeff fell asleep pretty early, so his character didn't play much of a part until I had him zombified by a robot spider later in the game. They were in a time machine with a TARDIS-style extra-dimensional interior that looked like the Scooby Doo van from the outside (Caed's idea). Anyway, I had a great time, and I'm pretty sure Caed, Tom, and Trevor did too. Jerry was engaged at least enough to make his character fun.

Trevor vanished into the night. The rest of us had breakfast together (waffles!) the next day and headed home. Tom and I took a drive around town, then meandered home by the back roads, stopping close to home at El Arriero, formerly El Castillo Grande, and still a great Mexican restaurant with style and a view of the lake.

And then there's Tom's summary. Don't believe his lies.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A Dalek in Love

Gather round, folks, and let me tell you about the worst Styx song ever, "She Cares." It starts off fine, telling a nice little story about... well, apparently about a sniper who can't bring himself to finish off his target. It's possible he still wings her, though.

I tried to be the perfect soldier
I tried to be what everyone said was expected
Somehow I was selected
Well, my hands were steady, my aim was true
But deep inside of my heart I knew
That I lacked the will
I just couldn't shoot to kill

Or maybe it's just a trite metaphor for baggin' a piece of tail. Either way, after a sweet courtship like that, she's bound to fall in love with him too, and a hideous chorus emerges in which we learn that she treats the speaker, "like a human," with the back-up voices echoing soulfully to the syrupy tune, "like a hewwwmaann." Touching, right? If only we could all find someone willing to go that extra mile and treat us like humans.

In the next verse, he's psychotically jealous and unfaithful to her at the same time. While his amazement at her continued affection is becoming easier to understand, the notion of treating someone like a human (like a hewwwmaann) still fails to awaken any emotion whatsoever in me. After all, if the guy's that much of a dick, I'd rather he be alone and miserable than singing perky songs about the one girl who treats him better than he deserves (like a hewwwmaann) after he ruined her life.

But I thought, you know, maybe I'm not giving this song a fair shake. Maybe it's about someone who really should be surprised to be treated like a human (like a hewwwmaann). Maybe he's a Dalek! Thinking it over, I realized that you really wouldn't have to change much for that to work.

It was all downhill from there.

So come along, boys and girls, go get the song playing on YouTube or something and then pop back over here to read the revised lyrics along with it, 'cause there's no way I'm ever gonna sing for you.

She Cares (Dalek Version)

Designed to be the perfect soldier
I only knew that I was what Davros created
Somehow I was mutated
Well one arm's a plunger, one arm's a tube
Inside the armor, I'm squirmy goo
And I lacked free will
I only knew how to kill

And still she treats me like a human
She says she'll still be there
I may be truly evil, but I'll be there
'Cause I know she cares

I exterminate the lesser species
I'm programmed to ensure that mine is the only one
That's how I thought it was done
But I went to far, forgot my place
My scheme to launch Earth deep into space
Seemed a sure-fire win
Oh what a fool I've been

And still she treats me like a human (like a human)
She says she'll still be there (that she'll be there)
I've just killed all her family, but she's not scared
'Cause somehow she cares

I guess that's the way it goes, the way that it goes
And nobody knows what compels her
She's seen my highs and lows and never let go

Oh yes she treats me like a human (like a human)
She says she'll still be there (that she'll be there)
I can't process these feelings, my heart's impaired
But somehow she cares

I guess that's the way it goes, the way that it goes
And nobody knows what compels her
She's seen my highs and lows and never let go

And when the Doctor kills us all again
I won't have to feel alone
'Cause I know she cares