30 May 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 9

Day Two

(Language warning in effect.  Reader discretion advised.)

Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
Saturday, April 18, 2071
0915 hours

    Rain pelted down hard on the streets of Seattle.  Treehugger threaded the Humvee Civic through the downtown traffic.  The SUV's wipers worked hard to keep the windshield clear for the occupants.  Treehugger herself relied on the Humvee's sensors to keep the SUV out of collisions.  The sudden relief from the downpour as the Humvee entered the Westin's underground parking was striking.  Treehugger killed the wipers, then let the Humvee coast to a stop at the entrance.

    Before Charles could get out, Tarkov said, "Wait."  He paused to let Charles shift in his oversized seat.  "I need ideas.  I don't want a repeat of yesterday's bickering.  I can get that at home."

    Numbers looked over at Charles, who just shrugged.  "Okay," the hacker said, "I think I have something.  Everyone yesterday kept touching on it but missed the point.  What's happening has to be costing someone money.  The people affected aren't in a position to pass along valuable data."

29 May 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 7 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first.

Something I find I do with my writing is have a reaction scene after an action scene.  It's in part for the characters and in part for me to take a breather.  I hope that the readers also appreciate the lull.  The food-like substances have appeared in Shadowrun before; most are from the classic adventure "Food Fight".  Stuffer Shack is a chain of convenience stores and, in a home campaign, turned into a running gag by my players where there was always some sort of intrusion into the company's Matrix space.  At the time of writing, most cyberpunk fiction foresaw the use of soy and krill in making food, with real meat being expensive due to the amount of land and resources needed.  This was before Schmeat was developed.  Vat grown artificial meat, shaped by 3-D food printers into the shape of what's desired, flavoured through attachments is a natural addition to the setting.

Charles took a couple of hits at the end of Chapter 6.  As a troll, he has a huge advantage in healing, game mechanics-wise, having a high Body score even before spending character points in the stat.  Charles is bigger than most trolls on top, so it's harder to hurt him and, if he can be wounded, he still heals faster.

The discussion he and Treehugger have is to get the team thinking about the potential opposition.  The hit team seen last chapter was capable but outclassed.  The discussion does tie into the plot; it's my way of adding information for the readers without outright saying what's going on.  And the discussion gave me a way to reveal the experience each runner has.  My goal was to show experienced runners, not rookies.  Treehugger is based on the Smuggler archetype from the fourth edition rules; I kept the concept of her being a smuggler and while she doesn't use T-birds*, she still can make trips up and down the Pacific Coast to deliver not quite legal packages.

There's also some name dropping going on, to tie the story further with the setting.  Cal Free is the California Free State, which is split into several areas.  Japan, using the Imperial Marines, controls the San Francisco Bay area.  Southern California was annexed both by Aztlan, formerly Mexico, and by the Ute Nation, which then got swallowed up by the Pueblo Corporate Council.  The Metroplex Guards are, essentially, the Seattle National Guard.  If it doesn't make sense, don't worry.  It's not important beyond cementing the story as part of the /Shadowrun/ setting.

The last scene sets up chapter 8.  The meeting that Tarkov is worried about now has a location.  While Numbers isn't paranoid, the attacks on Tarkov have her wanting to make sure that their location is secure.  Traces can lead to triangulation of the Tarkov's commlink via the equivalent of cell towers.

The commentary catch up is almost complete.  Chapter 8's will appear on Sunday, with chapter 9's appearing on schedule.  Thanks for your patience.

* Thunderbird-class Low Altitude Vehicles; essentially tanks that use vector-thrust like on Harrier jets.

27 May 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 6 - Commentary

Please read the chapter first.  The commentary will make far more sense.

Treehugger is not a morning person.  She has an allergy to the sun, which has been pointed out a few times.  As a result, her routine is such that she sleeps through most of the day to avoid getting the sunburn from hell.  Flight trials, though, tend to make sleep difficult.

This chapter was a good place to slow things down to let the crew rest, giving me a chance to show them interacting at a more personal level.  Numbers is able to let her hair down, or turn it off since it's artificial.  Oswald reveals yet another odd skill and a hint into his background.  The news report is the official report from the police about what happened when Mr. Johnson was rescued.  A job well done might still get on the news, but the runners shouldn't appear nor should the reasons for what happened.  In the crew's case, Knight Errant has the fight listed as gang warfare.  If you can't do a run quietly, find someone else to blame it on.

In Seatlle of the 2070s, policing has been outsourced, just like in Robocop.  Several companies are in competition for the contracts, including Lone Star Security Services, based in Texas, and Knight Errant, a subsidiary of Ares Macrotechnology.  A new company will always want to show that the money spent is well worth the value, so crackdowns will occur.  Complacency has yet to settle into the firm.  This means shadowrunners will have to make sure that they cover their tracks better.  Treehugger's loaned car helps; a colour change does a lot to throw off suspicion.

The news report Numbers saw was meant to be used later.  I will point out where I missed the opportunity, but the bit that Numbers saw was meant to be foreshadowing. 

System Identification Numbers work in a similar way to American Social Security Numbers and Canadian Social Insurance Numbers, with the added fun of computer databases tracking info.  SINs tie names and faces to the database, and can be used to track comings and goings.  Most runners have fake SINs; they're too necessary to be able to get around without one, but most runners have perfectly good reasons to have burned their old ones, if they even had one to begin with.  Normally, getting a SIN isn't that fast.  Mr. Johnson runs the department that oversees the requests for them and this has the fast method of getting temporary IDs.

Bodyguard work is slow and boring.  Ideally, it stays slow and boring; it means no one is trying to slip past and cause problems.  The crew, though, has to stay alert.  Numbers can set up programs to monitor the Matrix for her, leaving her time to do research.  Oswald has similar options.  He summons two watchers, like the spirits back in Chapter 4.  Watchers have to be given very specific instructions.  They aren't smart, so anything complex results in a spirit that sits in a corner and drools.  Oswald gives his watchers simple instructions.  The results, maybe a little predictable.  The watchers followed their instructions perfectly.  Oswald should have known better.  First, the instructions didn't distinguish on who opens the door.  Second, unauthorized summoning will be detected by astral security.  Like all friends, the crew ribs Oz on his screw up.

Treehugger's errand sent her back out into the sun.  The Pacific Northwest is known for its rainforest for a reason, but cloudy days don't hamper the elf wannabe.  On the plus side, she got the number and an invitation, so it wasn't all bad.  The Humvee TH picks up is the 2070 version of GM's Humvee, which was based on the HMMWV developed for the US military.  Ares got the rights to the model the old fashioned way; it bought up GM.

Back at the apartment, Numbers is playing receptionist.  She is the carrot, turning people away gently but capable bringing in Charles to use as the big stick.  The visitor, Carter, is Mr. Johnson's second in command and not easily intimidated, though Summon Big Troll is a very impressive spell.  The scene between Tarkov and Carter allowed me to get more info into the narrative.  It also let me show why Tarkov can trust Carter with protecting his family.  The two are more than just co-workers.

Holden's a bright kid.  He's meeting real-life shadowrunners and knows enough about the difference between fact and fiction to ask questions.  There are few occupations that are accurately portrayed*.  Most jobs aren't dramatically interesting enough to sustain a TV series, not without adding drama and minimizing the duller aspects that are the core of the position.  Legal dramas never show the articling student looking through stacks of books to find precedents; instead, the series focuses on the courtroom and on the relationships between lawyers.  Thus, trid shows that show shadowrunners will display the action and not the legwork or the relationships, and since most trid studios are corporate owned, the runners will be portrayed as being on the wrong side.

Skye is a teenager, growing up in a somewhat restricted environment.  A guilded cage is still a cage.  Rebellion happens, usually in socially acceptable ways.  The blue streak in Skye's hair turned out to be symbolic of her rebellion, but wasn't initially meant as such.  If it looks like I planned it that way, I'm a better wordsmith than I thought.  Fortunately for Skye, Treehugger understands her.  The conversation between the two is meant to show the disruption of the Tarkov family's daily routine.  I wanted to show that life happens beyond my main cast, that there are other people in the world.

The shopping scene with Oswald and Numbers had a few goals.  First, it was a chance for Numbers to open up a bit.  Second, it let me show the issues of cybernetic implants, showing the Essence loss mechanic of the game.  Third, it shows what shadowrunners give up to become deniable expendable assets for hire.  I've shown in earlier chapters that Numbers has a corporate background.  More of Oswald's background comes out here, possibly corporate.  An edit might reduce the scene, but it's character building, so it'd depend on the editor.

The second last scene brings in an element of action not seen since Chapter 4.  The crew was getting too comfortable and it was time to raise the stakes again.  I also got to show how the crew could work together even when surprised.  The attackers used a multifront attack; a drone from one side, a small team through the front door, and a pair of hackers on the Matrix side.  The drone, armed with a machine gun, can force people to keep their heads down, giving the guys in front time to break in, while the hackers can suppress alerts and phone calls from the apartment.  They were also smart enough to retreat after taking three casualties.

The last scene once more shows the disruption caused by the run.  Through no fault of the crew's, the family is split up and taken into hiding.  Tarkov has someone he can trust with is family.  Again, I seemed to have given all the major characters and even some of the minor ones backstory, enough to know what they'd do.  I've discovered that the more I know the characters, the more productive I am during NaNoWriMo.  Being able to figure out reactions goes a long way into maintaining the pace needed to complete the challenge.  A non-NaNo story would take advantage of this revelation, but I would need to do a lot of pre-writing work.

Chapter 8 has been posted.  The commentary for chapter 7 will appear on Thursday.

* One exception: Radio DJ, thanks to WKRP in Cincinatti.

25 May 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 5 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first.

Apologies for the delay.  The time away helped clear my head.  On to the comments!

Right away, some area explanations.  "Boeingville" refers to the Federated-Boeing facility in 2070s Everett, a suburb of Seattle.  The facility is more than just a factory and offices; it includes living areas, schools, and stores so that employees don't have to risk their lives on the untamed streets.  Security is tight and armed.  It's Shadowrun; the expectation is that someone could send deniable, expendable assets against your facility at anytime, and those assets have no qualms about the number of casualties inflicted, so it's best to be prepared.  Security in 2070 has reasons to be paranoid.  However, Mr. Johnson has some pull with the men at the gates.

Mr. Johnson's apartment number, 514, is also Montreal's area code.  There's nothing else special about it.  I just needed a number.  I could have also gone with 613, 905, or 416, but preferred Montreal over Ottawa and the Greater Toronto Area.  His apartment block houses many families; he's in an area reserved for upper management.

One thing I did, and I may not have done it on purpose, was give all the major characters backstories.  Each of the runners has a backstory.  Mr. Johnson has a backstory.  The opposition has a backstory.  Even the mooks have a bit of backstory, enough for why they're working for the opposition.  Most of the info wasn't written down, but it let me work out why events are happening and what the reactions would be.  The method works best on a smaller cast.  So far, the cast of characters for By the Numbers is small.  It will grow in a few chapters.  I should try using the method again for NaNo 2014.

Mr. Johnson gets a proper name and even a family in this chapter.  Tarkov's family adds to the stakes while showing that NPCs in a Shadowrun game aren't just stats and damage tracking boxes.  The KSAF interview was a combined backgrounder and writing exercise to get me ready for NaNo 2010, when By the Numbers was first written.  The MSTing by the crew creates a problem in continuity, but it wasn't meant to be published.

Mira's reaction is based on several factors.  First, she's a parent.  Her husband just brought home several people she doesn't know, one being a towering troll, and one who is very much scruffy.  Second, she is a civilian, like the vast majority of Seattle's population.  She has seen orks and trolls around, and is aware that Federated-Boeing employs mages, but shadowrunners happen to other people, not her.  Third, she is aware of just what falls within her sphere of interests.  She provides for her family, has her own hobbies, and gets her news through the corporate filter.  Tarkov might have mentioned other details over dinner conversation, but she is not as involved in the underworld and the shadows as the crew is.

Naming Tarkov's family was a challenge.  With the main crew, they received street name, similar to nicknames, which are usually given instead of taken.  Real names, though, need to follow a proper convention, instead of being called Treehugger after wrapping a car around a tree.  I did a quick bit of research on naming trends; what tends to happen is that an older name associated with grandparents for one generation becomes the darling name for the next.  The baby Caitlins from the 1980s will become retired Caitlins in the 2040s, turning the name into a grandparent name.  Names like Greer, as in Greer Garson will return because they won't be attached to old people.  Naming characters is hard work.

While Mira is hesitant to have the crew in her home, and she really can't be blamed, her son, Holden, feels otherwise.  Goblinization, or the painful change from human to ork or troll, started in 2021, fifty years prior to By the Numbers.  Both Tarkov and Mira are old enough to have seen the first generation of orks and trolls, though neither are quite 50 yet.  Holden, though, has grown up with magic and orks and trolls and elves and dwarves and dragons being the norm.  For him, Charles is just another part of life, just like anyone born in the US after 2008 has had a black president as a normal part of theirs.

Oswald's scruffiness remark goes back to Chapter 2, where he remarked that people expect shadowrunners to have a certain level of scruff.  Just like television today, the trid series will take excessive liberties with reality.  Compare forensics science in the real world and then with what is seen on CSI; similar will occur in the future.  Given that corporations in 2070 really don't want people to question the status quo, shadowrunners will be portrayed as mercenary, money grubbing, down and out, lawless, and will be used as the villains or, most likely, the villain's expendable army.

Numbers brings up a good point; not all shadowrunners are cyborgs or wizards who can melt a car with a fireball.  Runners come from all walks of life.  Numbers has a corporate background.  Treehugger and Charles are from lower incomes.  There's no one way to becoming a shadowrunner, which gives players in the game a lot of leeway to create a character.

The next chapter has already been posted, so if you're the type to want to wait for the commentary before continuing, feel free to proceed.  The commentary for chapter 6 will appear on Tuesday.

23 May 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 8

Corporate War Council

(Language warning in effect.  Reader discretion advised.)

Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
Friday, April 17, 2071
0922 hours

    The Humvee Civic drove into the Westin Seattle's underground parking lot.  The attendant opened his booth's window.  Treehugger transmitted her security info.  The attendant confirmed the codes then opened the main gate.  He gave the rigger directions for her designated parking spot.  Treehugger put the Humvee into gear.  Deeper under the streets, Treehugger stopped in front of the parking entrance to the hotel.  Charles stepped out of the SUV then opened the door for Tarkov.  Numbers followed the security manager, adjusting her skirt once out of the Humvee.  She took her place in front of Tarkov, keeping an eye out for potential trouble.  Charles closed the passenger door then brought up the rear as the small group entered the hotel.

    At the elevator, Tarkov entered his personal code into the AR display.  After a moment, the elevator door opened.  Charles stepped in first to make sure the car was safe.  He gave the all-clear signal, letting Numbers and Tarkov in.  The doors slid shut.

22 May 2014

By the Numbers Commentaries are Returning!

The commentaries are returning!  Starting this Sunday, the commentaries for the posted chapters of By the Numbers will appear with the following schedule:

Sunday, May 25: Chapter 5's commentary.
Tuesday, May 27: Chapter 6's commentary.
Thursday, May 29: Chapter 7's commentary.
Sunday, June 1: Chapter 8's commentary.

Chapter 9's commentary will appear on schedule.

Thank you for your patience.

20 May 2014

Cangames 2014

The Victoria Day long weekend brings two elements.  First, it is the first, much appreciated, long weekend since Easter.  Easter's date is far too variable, occurring in March or April depending on the phase of the moon.  As a contractor who doesn't get paid vacation days, that long stretch of winter is a pain and the May long weekend is most welcome.  Second, it's the weekend of CanGames, Ottawa's gaming convention and oldest in Canada, and the one con that I make an effort to get to every year.

16 May 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 7

The Safe House

(Language warning in effect.)

Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
Thursday, April 16, 2071
0833 hours

    Oswald set the stack of nuke and serve food on the makeshift table.  "Dinner's ready," he announced.  He grabbed the top container.  "The finest food from the Stuffer Shack."

    "Yummy."  Treehugger walked through the dim warehouse office to get to the table.  She looked through the stack.  "Couldn't it have killed you to get some AlmostEgg?"

    "It could be worse, TH.  They had a sale on NutraSoy Energy cakes.  I could have just stocked up on just that."

    Treehugger looked over at Tarkov.  "Got a preference, Mr. Johnson?  We've got fish-flavoured ramen, looks like a crab-substitute hamburger, and a couple of soy pasta dishes.  Numbers is dealing with the soykaf."

    Tarkov eyed the packages.  "Pasta, please."

    "Good choice."  Oswald handed Tarkov a warm container.

    "How's Charles?"

    "It takes far more to put him down," Treehugger said.  "He just needs a bit more rest.  If anyone had to get hit, best Charles."

15 May 2014

By the Numbers Commentary still on Hiatus

Still a little busier than I want.  I should be able to restart the commentary next week.

However, if you wish to say hi, I will be at CanGames this weekend.  Come on out and play a game.

9 May 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 6

A Day in the Life

(Language warning in effect.)
Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
Wednesday, April 15, 2071
0912 hours

    The boom of a jet taking off shattered Treehugger's sleep.  The young rigger rolled over, throwing her blankets off her.  She blinked, trying to place where she was.  Looking around, she saw several shelves holding a small library of books and optical chips and a desk that appeared to be made out of wood.  Treehugger rubbed the sleep out of her eyes.  Beside her, she saw a pile of folded blankets.  Another roar shook the building.  "Okay, okay, I'm up," she mumbled.

8 May 2014

Brief commentary hiatus

The commentaries will be delayed a bit.  I just need a bit of recharge time before getting back to them.  The regular chapter postings for By the Numbers will continue, though.  The hiatus won't be for long.


That said, if you have questions or comments about the story so far, please, comment.

2 May 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 5

Welcome to Boeingville

Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.

Tuesday, April 14, 2071

2106 hours

    Treehugger let the Commodore coast to a stop outside the gated entrance to Boeingville, the past of Seattle maintained by Federated-Boeing.  Two security guards, both wearing security armour, helmets and goggles, both carrying submachine guns, stepped out of the booth.  One stepped over to the driver's window.  "May I see your ID?"

1 May 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 4 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first.

Once again, the language warning.  For those who have read Subject 13, don't worry.  No one swears as much as Nasty did.  It's more there to make sure I comply with Blogger's terms of service about objectionable material; I am supposed to warn people, then place the material after a jump cut.  The language is rough at times, but comes from people under stress without being a cluster f-bomb.  The other bit of administrivia is the copyright info.  I am playing in someone else's playground, so all credit where credit is due.  I modified the blurb after the template available on Catalyst's home page.

Previously, Chapter 3 ended with the team getting an urgent call from Mr. Johnson to haul his ass out of the Rubber Suit, a nightclub in Seattle.  The Rubber Suit first appeared in the original Seattle Sourcebook, including featuring in an advertisement in the book, and was fleshed out a little more in Seattle 2072 as being a club that features classic kaiju movies like Gamera and Godzilla.  I wound up using the nightclub in a Shadowrun campaign I ran after my players decided the best way to extract a scientist wasn't to break in to the facility and remove him in blaze of gunfire, but to lure him and his security detail out.  I more or less used this scene as inspiration, giving my scientist a similar interest in giant monster movies.  From there, the players continued their shadowruns-as-Dada-performance-art approach by staging a flash mob Godzilla film festival and had the scientist swallowed by a team member in a Godzilla-suit and sneak him out.  Security was baffled, but they got help in their investigations by the flash mob organizer, who was one of the PCs, who showed the security detail exactly where he saw the scientist last.

Back to By the Numbers.  Oswald's interest in monster movies wasn't planned, but suited him.  Each member of the team uses their own abilities to figure out potential problems, with Oswald verifying the astral.  The watcher spirits are just that, spirits who watch.  They're another long-time fixture of the setting, appearing in the first edition of The Grimoire.  Watcher spirits aren't the sharpest hammer in the shed, but can follow simple instructions, such as "Watch this man.  If he leaves the building, come tell me."

The team split up, going against the usual warnings you find in RPGs against doing that.  Treehugger and Charles take Mr. Johnson out the front while Numbers and Oswald check for anyone following.  Doing this allows Treehugger to get Mr. Johnson to the car while Charles acts as a meat shield between Mr. J and the people after him.  Meanwhile, Numbers and Oswald can sneak up on the attackers and neutralize them from behind.  It's a method they've used before, in a story that has never been written.  The idea with By the Numbers is that the team is experienced, not rookies.

Fire exits are always useful for an escape.  Their main problem is that they trigger alarms as soon as they are opened.  It's great for an emergency.  Not so great if you're trying to sneak out.  A proper fire exit should have an alarm independent of any monitoring system.  A cheap alarm skips that, and Numbers found a cheap alarm.  More of Oswald's background is hinted here; most shadowrunners ignore niceties such as not creating fire hazards.  In the alley, they found the attackers' rear guard, who decided that a knife fight was the best thing to do.  Too bad Numbers brought a gun to the knife fight.  Oswald, however, trumped everyone, tossing a stunbolt at the apparent leader.

Out front, three more men jump the group.  The goal was to make it look like Mr. Johnson died in random street violence.  No one expected Charles to pull a Crocodile Dundee in response.  Charles has what's known in the game as a cyberspur, a metal blade that slides out from under the skin.  There's two main styles for cyberspurs, three blades from the back of the hand, Wolverine-style, or one long blade from under the forearm.  Charles chose the latter; as a troll, even allowing for an anchoring piece in his arm, he will still have a larger blade than anyone carrying a knife.  He uses the spur for intimidation; he's already big and now he's showing that he's always armed.

During the scene out front, I included the sounds of the fight in the alley.  While writing, I adjusted the order of the scenes, writing the alley fight first so that I knew what was happening there when I returned to Treehugger and Charles.  Rearrange the order, and it looks like I know what I'm doing as a writer.  The fight in back fell under the description "more stuff happens" in the outline.  When it came down to figuring out the scene, I let the game mechanics do the heavy lifting.  I did want the novel to reflect what was possible in the game.  One possible result, though, is the critical glitch.  Glitches occur when half the dice or more come up with a 1.  Critical glitches happen when glitches occur but there are no successes on the rest of the dice.  The attacker who didn't dodge the fire spirit had a critical glitch.  Awkward.  But, it can happen in a game, too.  In the same campaign mentioned above, an earlier run had the team bail out someone in a gunfight.  One of assailants had a critical glitch on a dodge roll on one of the monorail platforms.  My ruling was that he dove behind what he thought was cover, not remembering that there was no platform on the other side.  First Wilhelm Scream of the campaign there.

The fire elemental attack and the failure to dodge gave me a reason for the attackers in the alley to run away.  The mage just killed the apparent leader with a dangerous spirit.  Morale plummeted.  The attackers had the presence of mind to warn their compatriots up front via text message.  The dwarf might not have wanted to leave, but he'd have been the only one there.  Sometimes, being outnumbered is a bad thing.

The description Numbers gave about Oswald's extra work in the alley is typical of the average person in 2070 when it comes to magic.  Magic is barely understood, the workings being difficult to comprehend without studying a number of traditions and beliefs.  It's not quite as easy as pointing a finger and saying "Explodius!"  Spells casting can wipe out a mage if he's not careful.  Too powerful a spell and the mage could burn out from the inside.  Thus why Oswald checked for a nose bleed.

The Knights Charles referred to is the police department, Knight Errant, a subsidary of Ares Macrotechnology.  Knight Errant picked up the police contract after Lone Star Security Services ran into problems.  If it helps, picture Ares as OmniConsumer Products from Robocop, providing police services.  Most people see Knight Errant as the cops; that's the role the company serves.  Knight Errant is going out of its way to present itself in the best light, actively hunting down criminals.

Tomorrow, seeing Mr. Johnson home.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Hansel and Gretal, Witch Hunters.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Dredd.
Coming soon, more Project Natasha, and filing the serial numbers off fanficion.